Tuesday, September 16, 2008

economists study TV-watching

I've always been uneasy with studies that purport to find causation between TV-watching and video-game playing (particularly those that are violent) and negative outcomes.

For one thing, the intuition doesn't fit. I've seen my kids benefit (clearly) from some TV, videos, PC games, etc.

In terms of the research, I'm worried about correlations that may not be accounted for in the studies-- most notably, that those who watch a lot of TV (or play a lot of video games-- violent or not) are not being parented especially well. If that's the case, then it might easily be that poor parenting is to blame-- rather than watching TV or playing video games per se.

Then, TV and video games end up as scapegoats-- convenient in some worldviews-- for different and far larger problems.

Now, from the WSJ, an article by Justin Lahart on recent research by economists looking into these things...

It didn't take long after America started tuning in to television that people started to worry about what it was doing to children. "When it offers a daily diet of Western pictures and vaudeville by the hour, television often seems destined to entertain the child into a state of mental paralysis," wrote The New York Times in 1949.

A generation later, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of college-bound teenagers had fallen significantly. A 1977 panel appointed by the College Entrance Examination Board suggested television bore some blame for the drop. Indeed, the decline began in the mid-1960s, just as the first students heavily exposed to TV took their SATs.

But University of Chicago Graduate School of Business economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro aren't sure that TV has been all that bad for kids. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics this year, they presented a series of analyses that showed that the advent of television might actually have had a positive effect on children's cognitive ability.

The two are part of a tight-knit group of young economists using statistical techniques to examine how television affects society. The group's research suggests TV enabled an earlier generation of American children in non-English-speaking households to do better in school, helped rural Indian women to become more independent and contributed to lowering Brazil's fertility rate.

Mr. Gentzkow, who is 33 and doesn't own a TV set, says that figuring out how television influences children is far from straightforward.

"What are the reasons why some kids watch six hours of TV a day and some kids watch none?" he asks. "Clearly it has to do with their parents and what kind of parenting they're doing; it has to do with how smart they are and how much they like doing other things like reading; it has to do with what socioeconomic resources they have. Do they have a nanny who's taking them to the museum every day versus sitting home alone?"...

Lahart then continues by describing the various research lines in some detail...

Interesting, huh?


At September 17, 2008 at 8:21 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Have you seen book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman? This is the classic anti-television book. But he had an interesting argument: TV is bad not when it tries to be mindless entertainment, but instead when it tries to be serious. The problem is that when TV tries to be serious, it is either too superficial in its treatment of a subject, or else the imperative to be visually exciting drives the content. Postman cited shows such as a Nightline episode on nuclear arms control that gave each expert only 5 minutes to say something. He also discussed a certain PBS educational show for school children that was dramatic and attention-holding but of dubious pedagogical value; the imperative to be exciting apparently overrode the need to be educationally valuable to children.

At September 17, 2008 at 9:47 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I need to read some Postman. Back when I thought publishing books would be easier (in between my first and second books), I had planned a book or two on Christians and culture. And so, Postman still sits in my pile of books to read to prepare to write that book...

At September 18, 2008 at 7:06 PM , Blogger Artstudio Sri Lanka said...

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