Friday, February 17, 2006

No TV Make Homer Something Something

Earlier this week I observed a conversation where most of the participants were proving their intelligence by bragging about how little television they watched. At one point, someone claimed that studies showed that people watching TV demonstrated less brain activity than people who were sleeping. Even if that's true (which as far as I have been able to discover, it's not), I don't know that it really proves much besides that our brains are still pretty active while we're sleeping (anyone who's ever had a dream can attest to this). Now, from Slate, comes a report of a study that finds no basis in the claim that TV harms kids. The study wisely avoids trying to compare kids who watch lots of TV versus kids who watch very little, as this methodology will only create an opportunity for some smart-ass to remind you of the correlation/causation distiction (the article shows that kids who are driven to school in Mercedes' would also likely have higher scholastic achievement, but it's not because of the Mercedes, it's because of other factors to do with the environment those kids are raised in). Instead, the economists behind the study looked at differences in academic performance in kids from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds in cities that had TV earlier and later when it was first adopted in the 40's and 50's. And they found no negative effect (and in fact, a small positive one) on kids who were watching TV while their less technological peers across the country were playing stickball and catching frogs down at the creek. I still don't think TV should be either a babysitter or a primary educational tool, but perhaps more people need to be open to the possibility that it doesn't actively make us dumber (or, it doesn't have to) TV isn't the devil it's often made out to be.


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