Television and Brain Function
What The Tube Does To Your Brain
No country in the world is without them. Many of us spend countless hours a week in front of one. Is it helpful? Is it harmful? Is it of no consequence? Over less than a century, television has become the focal point of our leisure activities.
But is there a connection between television and brain function?
After sleep and school or work, most societies state that watching television consumes most of their time.
In this article we will explore the link between television and brain function and discuss the effect that this invention has had on our neural lives.
Wakeful sleep - Television and Brain Waves
Depending on our level of consciousness, our brains exhibit electrical waves that can be detected by a machine called an electroencephalograph or EEG. When we are awake and focused on something, our brain exhibits Beta waves.
If we meditate or relax, our brains move into an Alpha wave pattern. When we drift off to sleep our brains exhibit Delta waves. The interesting thing about television and brain function is that for the most part, our brains seem to turn off during television programs.
When we view television, our brains mostly exhibit slow Alpha waves and waves bordering on Delta waves. This means that even though we are focused on the story or the characters or the plot, our overall level of arousal is similar to when we are very relaxed or even asleep. Experiments in the late 60's showed that people can enter an alpha wave state as quickly as 60 seconds after beginning to watch television. Therefore, when it comes to television and brain function our brains tend to go into autopilot mode. In fact, watching television has the same effect on the brain as staring at a blank wall.
Alpha Waves, Hypnosis and Advertisements
Another state which induces alpha waves is hypnosis. Hypnosis, while it has come to be associated with people being "put to sleep" and forced to do various things such as act like a chicken, is actually a useful technique to control behavior. At its heart, hypnosis is a state of relaxation and focused attention.
The subject is not so much "put to sleep" as he or she is placed in a state of extreme relaxation. During this period the mind is actually quite focused and highly suggestible. The brain waves seen during hypnosis are quite similar to those measured in people watching television.
Television advertisers have seized on this effect of television and brain function for their television commercials. When people watch most television programs, they are quite suggestible. Thus a claim made in favor of a specific product, on some level, causes the person watching television to be more apt to believe it.
Television and Attention
Some researchers have argued that extended television viewing leads to decreased ability to sustain attention on other tasks. Some have gone as far as to blame the increased use of television on the increased numbers of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The causal link between television and ADHD remains controversial since studies seem to both support and refute this claim. It is safe to say that the best television is the kind that requires the viewer to think or become engaged in what is presented. The relationship between television and brain function can be beneficial to the viewer if television requires active attention, such as during educational programs.
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