By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
Emerging research suggests that children and adolescents who watch a lot of television are more likely to manifest antisocial and criminal behavior when they become adults.
New Zealand researchers followed a group of around 1,000 children born in the city of Dunedin in 1972-73.
Every two years between the ages of 5 and 15, researchers asked the children’s parents how much television they watched.
Experts then analyzed the data and discovered a small relationship in the data that suggests there is a connection between antisocial personality traits in adulthood and more television watching as a child. The researchers also found that people with a criminal conviction said that they watched more TV as a child compared to those who didn’t have one.
The study is published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Study co-author Bob Hancox, M.D., says he and colleagues found that the risk of having a criminal conviction by early adulthood increased by about 30 percent with every hour that children spent watching TV on an average weeknight.
The study also found that watching more television in childhood was associated, in adulthood, with aggressive personality traits, an increased tendency to experience negative emotions, and an increased risk of antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized by persistent patterns of aggressive and antisocial behavior.
The researchers found that the relationship between TV viewing and antisocial behavior was not explained by a few of the factors the researcher thought to examine, including: socioeconomic status, aggressive or antisocial behavior in early childhood, or how much control the parents sought to exert over the children, as reported by the mother.
Study co-author Lindsay Robertson, M.P.H., claimed that it is not that children who were already antisocial watched more television. “Rather, children who watched a lot of television were likely to go on to manifest antisocial behavior and personality traits.”
The study itself, however, cautioned that “It remains possible that reverse causation (the possibility that antisocial personality leads to more television viewing) causes the association between television viewing and antisocial behavior…” The research did not control for all possible confounding factors or alternative explanations for this correlation.
Other studies have suggested a link between television viewing and antisocial behavior, though few have been of this longitudinal nature. This is the first study that has asked about TV viewing throughout the whole childhood period, and has looked at a range of antisocial outcomes in adulthood.
However, the observational study did not assess cause and effect, thus it cannot prove that watching too much television caused the antisocial outcomes.
Nevertheless, the findings are consistent with other research and provide further evidence that excessive television can have long-term consequences for behavior.
“Antisocial behavior is a major problem for society. While we’re not saying that television causes all antisocial behavior, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society,” said Hancox.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality television programming each day.
In the end, the researchers said their findings support the idea that parents should try to limit their children’s television use.
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