Are You Addicted To TV?
It is 2AM and you are blankly staring at a rerun of “Columbo”. You meant to go to bed hours ago, but the time has somehow managed to slip through your fingers. Your hand reaches for the remote.
It’s Saturday afternoon and your best friend since kindergarten calls and asks to meet with you over coffee. She has some exciting news, and she can’t wait to share it. “Wait until “Friends” is over,” you reply.
Sound familiar? If so, you may be addicted to your TV. TV has some funny effects on the brain. Most people are not aware of these effects. However, the effects of TV on the brain are similar to the effects of addictive drugs. The good news is, once you become aware of these effects, you can begin to reduce TV’s addictive hold.
TV = Relaxation
Everyone knows TV can be very relaxing. TV has the ability to completely shut out the rest of our crazy world. All the world’s problems vanish as you are wrapped in a cozy TV Neverland. The relaxation is almost instantaneous. The quickness of the relaxation conditions you to associate TV with relaxation. As long as you are watching TV, you feel relaxed.
Unfortunately, this sense of relaxation ends as soon as the TV is turned off. The cozy little Neverland disappears. You don’t even get the benefit of a gradual withdrawal. Poof! Neverland is gone.
With drugs, the faster a drug leaves the body, the more addictive it is. The Scientific American researchers, Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, who explored TV’s addictive qualities, explain:
“A tranquilizer that leaves the body rapidly is much more likely to cause dependence than one that leaves the body slowly, precisely because the user is more aware that the drug’s effects are wearing off. Similarly, viewers’ vague learned sense that they will feel less relaxed if they stop viewing may be a significant factor in not turning the set off. ”
After the set is turned off you will feel either worse or the same as you did before watching TV. If you were trying to avoid painful feelings, those feelings will surge back when you reenter the real world. Worse, if you have acclimated to TV’s forced relaxation by watching too much, you may become dependent on the TV to relax.
TV “Grabs” and “Holds” your attention
TV shows use cinematic tricks to “grab” and “hold” the viewers attention. Humans brains are hard-wired to turn their attention to things that suddenly change in the environment. This is an evolutionary benefit for noticing potential threats. The body relaxes while the brain gathers information. The technical term is the “orienting response”.
Sudden changes is volume, cuts, zooms, scene changes, or sudden movements on the TV cause you to look at the TV. Repeated changes have the effect of “holding” your attention. Commercials, action movies, and music videos are notorious for containing large numbers of these sudden changes that “grab” and “hold” your attention.
Test it for yourself
Watch your own responses the next time you watch TV. For a fun experiment, turn on a TV in a room full of people to watch how the orienting response works. It is pretty amazing to watch, if you can keep from getting sucked in. The next time the TV is playing see how many cuts, zooms, loud noises, and scene changes you can count.
What are the major symptoms of TV addiction?
You want to watch less, but find it difficult to turn off the TV.
You tried in the past to limit your TV watching–but failed.
You feel anxious when the TV is not on.
You think about TV when you are not watching it.
TV replaces other meaningful activities, like spending time with family and friends.
Television has become so common in our society that it may be difficult to recognize a TV addiction. When everyone at the office is discussing the latest episode of “Desperate Wives”, it may be difficult to see that an unhealthy addiction is at work.
The Media *Addicted* Generation
The latest study by Kaiser foundation indicates that the next generation is already addicted to TV. The study found that kids, age 8-18, still watch about 4 hours of TV per day. On top of TV, they spend a couple hours playing with video games and computers. The grand total for kids was 6 hours 20 minutes per day. The study avoids the “A” word, but how else would you describe a generation who watches so much TV, videos, and games that they are labeled the “M” (Media) Generation?
Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (www.sciammind.com)
Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds Kaiser Family Foundation Report (www.kff.org)