New Evidence: TV time leads to attention problems

There is another piece of evidence that supports a long-standing belief among child development experts: Too much TV time is associated with attention problems in youth. The newest piece of proof comes from a study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University and published this month in the journal Pediatrics

The new research found that children who exceeded the two hours per day of screen time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics – either in TV-watching or video games – were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have attention problems in school.

The study followed third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students as well as college-aged students for more than one year. Over that time, participants’ average time using television and video games was 4.26 hours per day, well below the national average of 7.5 hours per day reported in other studies.

Study author Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, explained the phenomenon for a report in Science Daily.

“Brain science demonstrates that the brain becomes what the brain does,” he said. “If we train the brain to require constant stimulation and constant flickering lights, changes in sound and camera angle, or immediate feedback, such as video games can provide, then when the child lands in the classroom where the teacher doesn’t have a million-dollar-per-episode budget, it may be hard to get children to sustain their attention.”

This phenomenon again raises the question for professionals who coordinate youth intervention programs:  What can be done to capture the attention of youth who are so captivated by electronic media?   The answer is most likely to meet them somewhere in their world.

– Sheri Hall


  1. Rachel Dunifon says:

    While this study is certainly interesting, I would definitely not say that this is “proof” that TV viewing causes attention problems. There are likely numerous ways in which children who watch a lot of TV differ from those who do not. It is possible that it is these factors that predict attention problems, not TV viewing itself. Well-designed studies attempt to control for such differences. However, the authors of the study cited here did not–in fact, it looks like they only controlled for child age and gender in their analysis.

    See the following article for an example of how the “effect” of TV viewing on attention problems disappears once you start controlling for factors that may differentiate those who watch a lot of TV from those who do not:

    Foster, E.M. and Watkins, S. (2010). “The Value of Reanalysis: TV Viewing and Attention Problems”. Child Development, 81(1): 368-375.


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