Tv Linked With Brain Changes In Kids Essay

Children who watch too much TV may have 'damaged brain structures'

  • The more time a child spends watching TV, the more profound the changes
  • It leads to more grey matter in the regions around the frontopolar cortex area of the brain - towards the front and side of the head

By Robin Yapp

Published: 18:03 GMT, 10 January 2014 | Updated: 18:04 GMT, 10 January 2014

Watching too much television can change the structure of a child's brain in a damaging way, according to a new study.

Researchers found that the more time a child spent viewing TV, the more profound the brain alterations appeared to be.

The Japanese study looked at 276 children aged between five and 18, who watched between zero and four hours TV per day, with the average being about two hours.

Too much TV can change the structure of a child's brain in a way which can lead to lower verbal intelligence

MRI brain scans showed children who spent the most hours in front of the box had greater amounts of grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex - the area at the front of the frontal lobe.

But this increased volume was a negative thing as it was linked with lower verbal intelligence, said the authors, from Tohoku University in the city of Sendai.

They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently.

‘These areas show developmental cortical thinning during development, and children with superior IQs show the most vigorous cortical thinning in this area,’ the team wrote.

They highlighted the fact that unlike learning a musical instrument, for example, programmes we watch on TV ‘do not necessarily advance to a higher level, speed up or vary’.

‘When this type of increase in level of experience does not occur with increasing experience, there is less of an effect on cognitive functioning,’ they wrote.

Children who watch the most TV have the most profound changes to their brain structure

The authors said the impact of watching TV on the ‘structural development’ of the brain has never before been investigated.

‘In conclusion, TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive development of children,’ they wrote.

‘At least some of the observed associations are not beneficial and guardians of children should consider these effects when children view TV for long periods of time.’

The children in the study were an almost even split between girls and boys.

The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, highlighted an association between TV viewing and changes in the brain but do not prove that TV definitely caused the changes.

Scientists also cannot be sure whether missing out on activities such as reading, playing sports or interacting with friends and family as a result of watching TV could be behind the findings, rather than TV being directly to blame.

But they did say that the frontopolar cortex area of the brain has previously been associated with ‘intellectual abilities'.

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Keeping in touch is no longer about face to face, but instead screen to screen, highlighted by the fact that more than 1 billion people are using Facebook every day.
Social media has become second nature -- but what impact is this having on our brain?
In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a bespoke social media app resembling Instagram. By watching the activity inside different regions of the brain as the teens used the app, the team found certain regions became activated by "likes", with the brain's reward center becoming especially active.
"When teens learn that their own pictures have supposedly received a lot of likes, they show significantly greater activation in parts of the brain's reward circuitry," says lead author Lauren Sherman. "This is the same group of regions responding when we see pictures of a person we love or when we win money."
The teenagers were shown more than 140 images where 'likes' were believed to from their peers, but were in fact assigned by the research team.
Scans revealed that the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain's reward circuitry, was especially active when teens saw a large number of likes on their own photos, which could inspire them to use social media more often.
As part of the experiment, participants were also shown a range of "neutral" photos showing things like food and friends, and "risky" photos depicting cigarettes and alcohol. But the type of image had no impact on the number of "likes" given by the teens. they were instead more likely to 'like' the more popular photos, regardless of what they showed. This could lead to both a positive and negative influence from peers online.
Sherman believes these results could have important implications among this age group.
"Reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive in adolescence," says Sherman, "It could be explaining, at least in part, why teens are such avid social media users."
Adolescence is a period that is very important for social learning, which could explain why teens are often more tuned in to what's going on in their respective cultures. With the rise of social media, Sherman thinks we may even be learning to read likes and shares instead of facial expressions.
"Before, if you were having a face to face interaction everything is qualitative. You use someone's gestures or facial expressions, that sort of thing, to see how effective your message is," she says.
"Now if you go online, one of the ways that you gauge the effectiveness of your message is in the number of likes, favorites or retweets, and this is something that's really different and unique about online interaction."
However, the study may not be applicable to everyone, according to Dr. Iroise Dumontheil,at Birkbeck University.
"[The study] only has adolescents and so they can't really claim anything specific about whether it's adolescents who react to this differently compared to adults."
Dumontheil does, however, concur that social media is affecting our brain, particularly its plasticity, which is the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.
"Whenever you learn something new or you experience something, it's encoded in your brain, and it's encoded by subtle changes in the strength of connections between neurons," says Dumontheil.
For example, one study showed that the white matter in an adults' brains changed as they learned how to juggle over a period of several months. "They found that if you scan [the brains of] adults before they learn how to juggle, and then three months later, you can see changes in the brain structure," says Dumontheil.
Time spent on social media could, therefore, also cause the brain to change and grow.
"We might be a bit less good at reading subtle expressions on faces that are moving, but we might be much quicker at monitoring what's going on in a whole group of our friends," says Dumontheil.
So are these new skills a good or a bad thing? Neither, she says. "It's just a way we have of adapting to our environment."

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