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Can too much TV lead to criminality?

Feb 18, 2013
Courtesy of the University of Otago
and World Science staff

Chil­dren and ado­les­cents who watch a lot of tel­e­vi­sion are more likely to ex­hib­it an­ti­so­cial and crim­i­nal be­hav­ior when they be­come adults, ac­cord­ing to new re­search. 

The study by Uni­vers­ity of Otago, New Zea­land, sci­en­tists tracked about 1,000 chil­dren born in the New Zea­land ­city of Dun­e­din in 1972-73. Eve­ry two years be­tween the ages of 5 and 15, they were asked how much tel­e­vi­sion they watched. Those who watched more tel­e­vi­sion were found to be more likely to have a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion and were al­so more likely to have an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity traits in adult­hood.

“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 study co-author Bob Han­cox.

The find­ings are pub­lished on­line in the jour­nal Pe­di­at­rics.

Han­cox 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 said the rela­t­ion­ship be­tween TV view­ing and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior was not ex­plained by socio-economic sta­tus, ag­gres­sive or an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior in early child­hood, or par­ent­ing fac­tors.

It’s not that chil­dren who were al­ready an­ti­so­cial watched more tel­e­vi­sion, said study co-author Lind­say Rob­ert­son. “Rather, chil­dren who watched a lot of tel­e­vi­sion were likely to go on to man­i­fest an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior and per­son­al­ity traits.”

Oth­er stud­ies have sug­gested a link be­tween tel­e­vi­sion view­ing and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior, though very few have dem­on­strated a cause-and-ef­fect se­quence. The re­search­ers said this is the first “real-life” study that has asked about TV view­ing through­out child­hood, and has looked at a range of an­ti­so­cial out­comes in adult­hood. 

As an ob­serva­t­ional stu­dy, it can­not prove that watch­ing too much tel­e­vi­sion caused the an­ti­so­cial out­comes, they added, but the find­ings are con­sist­ent with most of the re­search and pro­vides fur­ther ev­i­dence that ex­ces­sive tel­e­vi­sion can have long-term conse­quences for be­hav­ior. The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pe­di­at­rics rec­om­mends that chil­dren should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of qual­ity tel­e­vi­sion pro­gram­ming each day.


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Children and adolescents who watch a lot of television are more likely to exhibit antisocial and criminal behavior when they become adults, according to new research. The study by University of Otago, New Zealand, scientists tracked about 1,000 children born in the New Zealand city of Dunedin in 1972-73. Every two years between the ages of 5 and 15, they were asked how much television they watched. Those who watched more television were found to be more likely to have a criminal conviction and were also more likely to have antisocial personality traits in adulthood. “While we’re not saying that television causes all antisocial behaviour, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society,” said study co-author Bob Hancox. The findings are published online in the journal Pediatrics. Hancox and colleagues found that the risk of having a criminal conviction by early adulthood increased by about 30% 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; a psychiatric disorder characterised by persistent patterns of aggressive and antisocial behaviour. The researchers said the relationship between TV viewing and antisocial behavior was not explained by socio-economic status, aggressive or antisocial behaviour in early childhood, or parenting factors. It’s not that children who were already antisocial watched more television, said study co-author Lindsay Robertson. “Rather, children who watched a lot of television were likely to go on to manifest antisocial behaviour and personality traits.” Other studies have suggested a link between television viewing and antisocial behaviour, though very few have been able to demonstrate a cause-and-effect sequence. The researchers said this is the first “real-life” study that has asked about TV viewing throughout childhood, and has looked at a range of antisocial outcomes in adulthood. As an observational study, it cannot prove that watching too much television caused the antisocial outcomes, they added, but the findings are consistent with most of the research and provides further evidence that excessive television can have long-term consequences for behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality television programming each day.