Television is a powerful agent of
development for children, particularly those in pre-school. But when could too
much TV be detrimental to a young child's mind?
A recent paper published in the
Journal of Communication found that preschoolers who have a TV in their bedroom
and are exposed to more background TV have a weaker understanding of other
people's beliefs and desires.
Amy Nathanson, Molly Sharp, Fashina Aladé,
Eric Rasmussen, and Katheryn Christy, all of The Ohio State University,
interviewed and tested 107 children and their parents to determine the relationship
between preschoolers' television exposure and their understanding of mental
states, such as beliefs, intentions, and feelings, known as theory of mind.
Parents were asked to report how many hours of TV their children were exposed
to, including background TV. The children were then given tasks based on theory
These tasks assessed whether the children could acknowledge that
others can have different beliefs and desires, that beliefs can be wrong, and
that behaviours stem from beliefs.
Understanding of mental states
The researchers found that having a bedroom
TV and being exposed to more background TV was related to a weaker
understanding of mental states, even after accounting for differences in
performance based on age and the socioeconomic status of the parent.
preschoolers whose parents talked with them about TV performed better on theory
of mind assessments.
Many studies have investigated the effects
of children's TV exposure on social behaviours, without examining if TV
exposure affects the neuropsychological function that underlies social behaviour,
and without taking theory of mind into consideration.
This study shows that TV
exposure may impair children's theory of mind development, and this impairment
may be partly responsible for disruptive social behaviours.
"When children achieve a theory of
mind, they have reached a very important milestone in their social and
cognitive development," said lead researcher Nathanson.
with more developed theories of mind are better able to participate in social
relationships. These children can engage in more sensitive, cooperative
interactions with other children and are less likely to resort to aggression as
a means of achieving goals."