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Since the 1950’s, sitting in front of the television for relaxation, entertainment, learning, and for just something to do, has been an integral part of family life. With the introduction of TV into the fabric of family homes, research has been mounting in support of some of its negative impacts. Implicated in childhood obesity, behavioural and sleep disturbances, seizures, desensitization, violence, decreased learning, sedentary lifestyles, learning disabilities and poor food choices, television has become more than a simple source of distraction.1
Chiropractors worldwide concern themselves with the enhancement, optimization and healthy development of the body through its nervous system. Awareness is the key in being able to educate Chiropractors and patients about the potential damaging effects induced by television viewing.
The numbers are astonishing! The amount of television the average American watches is 3–4 hours per day.2 By the age of 75, a full 9 years will have been spent watching TV.3,1 The amount of TV a one-year-old child watches is one hour per day, and ages 2–17 is 2.8 hours per day.4 This is, in spite of the American Pediatric Association’s recommendations that children under the age of 2 should not view television and that viewing for older children should be limited to 1–2 hours of media viewing (this includes video games).5
Television and the Brain
The physiological process the brain undergoes while viewing TV, is perhaps a key to its harmful effects.
Television images are created by a cathode ray gun scanner, which activates thousands of small phosphor dots that have been formed into 525 lines. The scanner sweeps across the screen twice in one fiftieth of a second. The eye receives each dot and transmits this information to the brain, which fills in the dots of the pattern. It becomes a type of unconscious connect-the-dots. However, this high frequency of 50 waves of dots every second puts a strain on the visual system because the eye and the conscious brain can only record visual stimuli at 20 impulses or less, per second. As the eyes and brain attempt to keep up with the pace of the images, our visual focus is “glued” to the screen.6
Reeves and Thorson explained the hypnotic state of television by our natural “orientating response”. This response occurs after perceiving a new auditory or visual stimulus and consists of blood vessel dilation to the brain, a decrease in heart rate, and constriction of blood to the major muscle groups. The body becomes still and quiet while the brain gathers information. This orientating response appears to be activated by the countless cuts, zooms, pans, sounds and actions of television, as many as 1 per second. (sciam) These rapid movements cause our attention to be intensely attracted to the screen in an almost hypnotic state that most viewers, find difficult to detach from.7
Thus the “addictive” cycle begins. People report a sense of relaxation and passivity while viewing, however once off; the feeling of relaxation ends while the feeling of passivity and lowered alertness continues.8 In essence, during watching the viewer is not actually reacting or focusing. This can explain why the person is left exhausted and often has difficulty in recalling what was viewed once the television is turned off.
High frequency television waves also appear to have an effect on brainwave activity. Within 30 seconds of watching TV, repeated EEG experiments observed brainwave patterns to change from beta waves (alert and conscious) to alpha waves (unfocused—a type of subconscious day dreaming usually occurring only when the eyes are shut).9 Another brainwave EEG study found that a person watching TV for only a few minutes had the same brainwave activity as someone who is subjected to 96 hours of sensory deprivation! 10(p46)
In addition, there have also been reports on the potential deadly effects of viewing. In 1997, 700 Japanese children were rushed to hospital suffering from optically induced epileptic seizures after watching a Pokemon video game. The high frequency of red/blue flashes of color may have induced these seizures. Video game manufacturers now issue warning labels on some video games. Despite this, the popularity of these games still increases.11