I recently wrote a post citing a study that reading fiction makes a person more empathetic because they can imagine themselves in the position of the characters they are reading about. These skills then become transferable to a person's real life when they interact with others. How about other forms of fiction, however, such as watching a TV drama? We have long been told that watching TV rots our brain, but could TV actually be good for us?
Some studies suggest that TV could indeed be good for us, though to be fair most of these studies are cited by Bustle and HuffPost, so make of them what you will. The most convincing argument I could find for why TV watching is good for us is that TV watching helps decrease levels of cortisol - the hormone associated with stress - especially in women. Researchers speculate that this is because TV watching is a passive activity that gives people a break from their over-scheduled days. This ability to disengage and de-stress actually makes us more likely to exercise self-discipline and self-control in other aspects of our lives. This is because abstaining from things we find pleasurable is hard and often requires external motivators. The reward of watching a favorite TV show at the end of the day may actually encourage us to go to the gym or stick to a diet. Other studies find that watching TV boosts our creativity. When we watch show with fantastical worlds, like Game of Thrones, our minds expand beyond the normal realms of reality sparking our imagination and encouraging creative thought. Moderate amounts of ambient background noise, like the music in a coffee shop, have also been found to encourage creative thinking. This is because silence helps us focus. While focus is good for certain tasks, it actually discourages abstract thinking. In other words, silence may be good for helping you do your taxes, but if you want to write the next great American novel, putting on a repeat episode of your favorite TV show in the background may help. On the other hand, putting on background music, may be equally as useful. Other studies, which I find much more dubious, point to the fact that TV can be educational. Shows such as Grey's Anatomy often contain accurate bits of medical information. Researchers argue that people watching these shows become better informed and more conscious about their health and lifestyle choices. While this may be true in some cases, I think it is safe to conclude that watching TV for informative purposes is not one's best course of action.
If TV watching has all these benefits, then why is it often thought of as bad for us? First of all, TV watching can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight, which is closely tied to diabetes and heart related problems. In addition, watching TV encourages unhealthy eating habits - both because of the unhealthy food that is advertised on TV and people's tendency to snack while watching TV. Not only is TV bad for our physical health, but physical activity has been shown to increase brain health. When we stop leading an active lifestyle our cognitive functioning decreases. The impact of TV on a person's cognitive health is even more detrimental in children below the age of two. TV watching can often cause speech delays. As anyone who has learned a new language can attest, language acquisition requires one to engage in conversation in the language one is trying to learn. When very young children watch TV, they are not actively engaging in dialogue. Thus, delaying their ability to acquire language. Children are not the only ones, however, who do not engage in conversation when parked in front of a television. Unsurprisingly, adults who spend greater amounts of time in front of the TV also experience higher rates of social isolation, which is liked to depression. Finally, in addition to being harmful to our physical, mental and social health, TV is also bad for our financial health. Companies spend millions of dollars on advertisements because advertisements cause us to spend more money. Thus, while it may not always be harmful to watch television, limiting the time one spends in front of the TV is probably wise.
Perhaps the old adage is true - everything in moderation, including moderation.
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