Television & ADD

The below excerpts are derived from the book Getting Rid of Ritalin: How Neurofeedback can Successfully Treat Attention Deficit Disorder Without Drugs, by Robert W Hill; Eduardo Castro, M.D.

This is just a miniscule piece of a fantastic book with so many viable options.¬† These guys lay it all out for us in layman’s terms.

Television РAn Unsuspected Behavioral Influence 

We can say with confidence that excessive television viewing, particularly in young children, causes neurological damage. TV watching causes the brain to slow down, producing a constant pattern of low-frequency brainwaves consistent with ADD behavior. This low-frequency theta (four to eight hertz) reduces the brain’s capacity for higher thought processes. Excessive television viewing by small children causes the brain to miss some of the early development stage, resulting in less-than-adequate brain functioning. The brain becomes limited in creative ability as well as higher levels of abstract thinking.

Television lulls the brain into a dull, barely conscious state resembling hypnosis. Television viewing may be one of the culprits in the cause of ADD, and we know that children’s attentional problems are made worse by television and video games. Television viewing gets in the way of the brain developing the plasticity or flexibility necessary for a successful adult life.

The latest figure that we can find from TV research suggests that a child sees approximately 5,000 hours of TV by the age of five. This not only has a negative effect on the brain, reducing high-level thinking processes and creativity, but it has an influence on social behavior.

Cognitive and Attentional Problems

If a child spends more time in front of a television than he does in a classroom, it stands to reason that the intelligence level will be less than that of the child who reads rather than watching TV. Even if he is watching PBS, television viewing causes neurological changes that lessen arousal levels. Television has replaced reading for fun; many young people only read when they are forced to. We contend that the more exposure to television children have, the lower the arousal level and the more difficult it is to read. Reading encourages the brain to build better internal connections and operate at a higher level, whereas television allows the brain to operate at the lowest level of functioning.

Efficient learning takes place when the brain is in a state of alertness, not when the brain is in a deep state of relaxation. When the brain is producing alert brainwaves in the beta range, it is open and receptive to information. It can integrate – of information into a whole picture. In the slower brainwave ranges, the brain is less alert, less awake.

When children sit in front of a television, their brains begin slow down, moving toward the slower, less alert brainwaves. Reasoning, logic, and higher thought processes are absent in the lower frequencies. These frequencies approximate a state of hypnosis in which you appear dazed and follow instructions of hypnotist. This is why children and even adults often appear a daze when they sit in front of a television. They are in what known as “ocular lock,” or dazed staring.This is also why it is difficult to get their attention; they are noticeably locked onto the TV. One study indicated that children who watch TV six hours or more a day are more likely to have lower IQs than children who watch two hours or less.” Unfortunately, children who come from lower socioeconomic homes tend to be more at risk because of longer exposure to television viewing.

It is generally accepted that watching TV makes the brain slow down. To verify this, on several occasions, we have placed children in front of a TV and attached EEG sensors to the scalp appropriate locations. Within a very short period of time the brain begins to exhibit low-frequency dominance. The brain slows down and higher thought processes stop.

In 1988, two researchers published an article stating that television inhibits the growth of reading and may inhibit intellectual problem solving. A second study suggests there were three negative effects on learning for young children: television has the ability to manipulate the brain to pay attention to it; television induces neural passivity; and television may be hypnotic and possibly neurologically addictive.

Television presents constant action, high drama, and dramatic effects, and this puts parents and teachers at a disadvantage. They cannot compete with television and video games. A teacher standing sedately in front of a blackboard is no comparison to the constant movement in television. She would have to create a circus-type atmosphere to be competitive.

Hence, children raised on TV, easily become bored and disinterested. The child with ADD cannot sustain attention in most normal situations, but television or video games lock him in. Yet there is a paradoxical effect here: the television grabs his attention, then lulls him into hypnosis. This child who cannot pay attention is now transfixed and very difficult to disturb. For these children, commercials are even more captivating than the regular program.

Long hours of television watching make children behave like zombies and after television viewing; they may also be more hyper. One research article suggests there is a proportional increase in attentional disorders with time spent viewing television.  Our clinical findings would suggest that this is indeed correct. We have noted that the more time a child spends watching television, the less he reads, the less effort he makes on homework, the more trouble he has sustaining attention, the lower his grades are, and frequently, the higher the incidence of behavioral problems.

Neurological Damage

In terms of the effects of television on the brains and nervous systems of small children, we appear to be where we were with the knowledge of cigarette smoking and health in the 1960s. We know there is a danger, but we do not know the full extent of it. It would be ironic if thirty years from now we witness class action lawsuits against broadcasting companies for injuring young brains.

As dangerous as the possible impact of television content is to children, the neurological damage may be far worse than anyone expected. Television viewing may be causing a significant form of brain damage because of the way the brain reacts to it. The ancient art of storytelling carried on by parents and family, then by radio, had a profound impact on the way our brains formed and built neural connections. Television viewing, as opposed to storytelling, causes the brain to function very differently.

Research indicates that our brains operate by activating small clusters of neurons or brain cells. They in turn interact with other clusters of brain cells known as neural fields. A single brain cell is connected to an average of 10,000 other neurons, and clusters of these neurons are organized into fields of neurons containing approximately a million brain cells each . Brain cells communicate with one another through the use of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The brain is an amazing network of single brain cells communicating with other single cells of clusters of brain cells interacting with other clusters and of entire neural fields talking to other neural fields.

When the brain is involved in some low-level activity, not requiring a lot of thought, perhaps only a single field of neurons will be activated. This is exactly what happens in television viewing. It requires a very low level of brain activity. When complex thought is engaged during a behavior like problem solving or seeing a story in the mind, many neural fields are interacting with each other. The brain is a buzz of activity when this happens. Efficient brains are capable of speeding up for problem solving or slowing down for relaxation. When brains are busily engaged in problem solving or creative activity, all kinds of information is being passed back and forth between neurons and neural fields.

What is worse than this is the fact that television viewing, particularly for young children, can actually change the way the brain functions. As the brain slows down due to television viewing, we can see a wide variety of psychological problems, including ADD, hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety. The implications of television viewing are not just social but neurological.