The Human Beast

Why we do what we do

Does watching TV make us stupid?

Synonyms of television include "idiot box," "boob tube," "goggle box," and other equally unflattering descriptors. The viewer is denigrated as a "couch potato." Is it true that the one-eyed monster robs us of the ability to think for ourselves?Pejorative attitudes to TV are older than most of us. Read More


Hi Nigel,

I read your post and wanted to add;

Some tips to improve your children’s learning and development whilst indulging some quality and recreational time.

* Encourage your children to talk about what they see when they watch television.

* Point out and approve of positive behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and respect for others.

* Make interesting comparisons to history, books, places of interest, and personal events.

* Talk about your personal and family values as they relate to the show.

* Ask children to compare what they are watching with real events.

Many thanks
Dawn Pugh


Nigel Barber wrote:

"Results for children of impoverished parents are
altogether different. The more TV they watch, the
better their grades. If parents are not stimulating,
then the kids do better watching the idiot box than
conversing with their parents, sad to say."


What study came to that conclusion?

I do know there was a study looking at the effects
of young children watching educational TV as compared
to non-educational TV which found that kids who watched
the educational TV did better.

But a study that found that the more TV a poor child
watches the better they do in school? Such a study
I've not heard of. I'm really curious now, please
let us know more details i.e. who did the study
and when was it published.

Nigel Barber wrote:

"Fortunately, another study, Progress in International
Reading Literacy (2001), asked children about their
use of leisure time, including TV viewing and computer
access. Countries in which a larger proportion of
children watched TV every day had higher reading
achievement scores, which implies that they have
higher IQ scores (as these two are very highly
correlated). Daily access to computers provided
similar benefits. What is more, use of these
electronic media fully explained why children
in affluent countries do better in school."

I went to the website for:

"International Comparisons in Fourth-Grade Reading
Literacy: Findings from the Progress in International
Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of 2001"

I downloaded the pdf, and this is what I found on
page 27:

"In the United States, fourth-graders who read for fun
every day or almost every day have higher average
scores on the combined reading literacy scale compared
to those who never or almost never read for
fun, or do so once or twice a month. This pattern
holds at the international level as well, based on
the international averages."

And this is what I found on page 28:

"Looking at the international average for the combined
reading literacy scale, fourth-graders who
watch TV for more than 5 hours on a normal school
day score lower than those who watch TV for 3 to 5
hours a day or less frequently. In the United States,
the same finding holds."

Furthermore there have been a number of studies
(that are much more fine-grained than yours),
that found that excessive TV negatively effects

Another Point

As Doctor Barber points out "Just because there
were a lot of TVs in the country, it did not mean
that more children were watching them, either."

That is exactly correct.

It would make sense that a rich household
would have more TV's than a poor household.
But a number of studies have shown that,
on average, poor children watch much more
TV than rich children. So really it doesn't
make sense that the more TV's a household
owns necessarily points to more TV watching
by children in that household.

Thank you for this reply. I

Thank you for this reply. I too was surprised at the light brushstrokes with which this article is painted. A lack of serious reflection on the data. One of the beauties of Web 2.0 is that one often finds more serious scholarship in one of the comments than in the main article. This comment fits that description.


I disagree with your study and question where you got your stats? I grew up reading and not watching much television and raised my children the same way. They are both very intelligent individuals today. If they sat in front of a tv instead of reading a book how would that increase reading ability? It makes no sense to me and It makes me wonder why Psychology Today would post such nonsense.

This is a poorly written and

This is a poorly written and researched article. I hope nobody takes your "findings" seriously.

the tests would be

the tests would be inconclusive for reason of unaccounted for variables. The individual children are entirely unique, with unique learning capability and unique study habits. the schools, wether the tests were done at the same school or not, i do not know, would be different, with different teachers and the like. Also, schools dont judge the childs indivigual intelligence, they judge their capability of regurgitating lessons. Schools today, and in any time periode, are to give the student knoledge, and your intelligence isn't based on your knowledge. intellegence is based on problem soliving and creative thinking. In conclusion, i do not agree with your test.

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Nigel Barber, Ph.D., is an evolutionary psychologist as well as the author of Why Parents Matter and The Science of Romance, among other books.


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