This Slate article is sad and disturbing and possibly wrong, since I've been around long enough to know another study is bound to come out next year contradicting this. Still, right this minute I'm not feeling anywhere near as foolish as I usually do about having read Newsweek out loud to my older son when he was sitting in his little infant seat. No one has done any research on Newsweek and kids.
To my knowledge.
I n the early 1980's when I was in film school Jerry Mander's "Four Arguements for the Elimination of Television" was required reading. In this book and his follow-up Mander discusses any number of social, economic and health issues involved with television so this autism study doesn't surprise me.
Quite simply, the pulsing of electrons from a television screen -- the refresh rate, if you will -- triggers a switch in the brain from beta waves (which are alert, consciousness waves) over to alpha waves (just below the consciousness level, passive, receptive). Television coaxes the brain into a state of subtle hypnosis. Think of the implications if you have a nation full of people in a mildly hypnotic state and you're feeding them 18 minutes of commercials every hour.
Now, if the developing brain in the first three years is subjected to hightened, prolonged states of alpha wave activity when it should be developing and making congnative connections in its beta state, is it any wonder we see the rise in autism connected with an increase in television activity?
I've got an 8 and 10 year old in my house and TV watching is limited primarily to movies on DVD. My girls haven't got a clue about Disney TV shows or what's on Cartoon Network but they are fond of musicals ("Singin' in the Rain" is their favorite movie) and hate the way modern kids' movies seem to talk down to them. Recently they preferred "Captain's Courageous" to "Over the Hedge." We use TV as a cultural teaching device in the sense that they are being exposed to more (and more varied) culture, and consciously so, than most of their friends. As it stands, they would rather read books during their free time; it never occurs to them to turn on the TV when they are bored.
Lately I have been reminded of a cartoon in MAD magazine in the 1960's showing how in the future America's enemies could easily invade because we were rasing a generation of obese children with poorly developed critical thinking skills. Between political ignorance, TV induced autisim and diet-based obesity, who would have imagined MAD would get it right?
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