Televised Violence Linked To Immaturity
June 19, 2014

Televised Violence Linked To Immaturity

I am not much of a television watcher. I am more of a movie and video game person myself, though there are a few shows that I would like to get into. I watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead a little while back, and liked most of what I saw, though it should go without saying that the graphic novels are better. I would love to give Game of Thrones a try, but have yet to actually take the time to sit down and watch it. I am a fan of Agents of Shield and will watch the occasional NCIS with my roommate. Still, despite my lack of attentiveness to television, I hold serious doubt in my mind relating to any claim that the content of the television you watch either effects or determines your mental facilities. Sure, there is some dumb stuff out there, but that is all relative. What I find silly or stupid, others might find truly engaging. I will not go into how many of my friends are into My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I have tried, and I just cannot find the appeal. If I am going to watch cartoons, give me something like Fairy Tail, Young Justice, or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex any day.

A recent study conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine has suggested that young men who watch more violent television show less mature brain development and less capable executive functions – the ability to formulate plans, make decisions, solve complex problems, maintain attention, and self-control. The researchers used various psychological tests and MRI scans to calculate the subjects’ mental abilities and volume of various brain regions in the 65 healthy male candidates, all with normal IQ ranges, between ages of 18 and 29. These young men were all specifically chosen because they were not frequent video game players and the researchers wanted to be able to focus the study purely on the potential effects of violent television. These young men were all asked to provide estimates of their television viewing over the past year and were then asked to keep a detailed diary of their television watching for the next week during the test. They also completed a series of psychological tests that measured their inhibitory control, attention, and memory, and finally were given an MRI scan.

Dr. Tom A. Hummer, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the IU Department of Psychiatry and lead author of this study stated, “We found that the more violent TV viewing a participant reported, the worse they performed on tasks of attention and cognitive control. On the other hand, the overall amount of TV watched was not related to performance on any executive function tests.”

When observing the brain scans of the participants, Dr. Hummer and his associates also noted that the volume of white matter connecting the frontal and parietal lobes in those with higher violent television exposure was less than in those of the others. White matter is the tissue in the brain that insulates the nerve givers that connect different regions of the brain, making the brain function more efficiently on the whole. Typically, the volume of white matter increases as the brain makes more connections until around the age of 30, improving the communication between the various regions of the brain. The connections between the frontal and parietal lobes – those that Dr. Hummer found lacking in those subjects with a higher exposure to violent television – are believed to be especially important for executive functioning.

So, in essence, what Dr. Hummer is trying to say is that violent television hinders the maturity of our brains, or at least that it is a possibility. He also admits that the reverse could also be true in that people with less volume of white matter connecting their frontal and parietal lobes might simply be more drawn to violent television than others. “With this study we could not isolate whether people with poor executive function are drawn to programs with more violence or if the content of the TV viewing is responsible for affecting the brain’s development over a period of time,” said Dr. Hummer. “Additional longitudinal work is necessary to resolve whether individuals with poor executive function and slower white matter growth are more drawn to violent programming or if exposure to media violence modifies development of cognitive control.” Of course, it could also be a combination of the two, but with what data has been acquired so far it is hard to say.

Now, while I admit to having a hard time buying into such research, I will not deny the interesting repercussions of such a finding should it prove to be accurate. Whatever the case may be, a connection to violent television and a hindered maturity of white matter does seem to exist.

That in and of itself is something to keep in mind, at the very least.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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