TV and Attention Problems

There have been several studies that have link attention problems like ADHD with the amount of television watched when young (such as this one: TV and ADHD). There have also been the occasion studies that say there is no link (see TV Not a Cause of ADHD). Now a new study published in Pediatrics is proposing a link but the study is not all the it seems.

New Scientist magazine picked up on the study and said:

Watching television more than two hours a day early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence, according to a large long-term study.
The roughly 40% increase in attention problems among “heavy” TV viewers was observed in both boys and girls, and was independent of whether a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder was made prior to adolescence.

However going from the study’s abstract, there is more here than meets the eye.

Firstly the study uses data from longitudinal study that started with children born in 1972 and followed them up to the age of 15, around 1987. Clearly this study is reanalyzing old data. This is not in itself a problem but data collected twenty years ago for, presumably, a completely different study may not match modern standards or fit with our current understanding of attention problems.

The second problem is the study is twice damned by reported, rather than measured, data. The amount of time the children spent watching TV was estimated by the parents and attention problems were reported by teachers, parents and the individuals themselves. Data that is reported in this manner has to be treated with caution because it is very prone to error. Especially when talking about attention problems which are subjective. The teacher may see an pupil with an attention problem but the pupil may be just bored by a poor teacher.

There is evidence that show watching lots of TV as a very young child may be connected to attention problems but we need far better data than this study before we can be sure. Once we identify a connection, cause and effect still have to be established. Child who watch TV may develop attention problems or maybe children with attention problems watch a lot of TV.

Does Childhood Television Viewing Lead to Attention Problems in Adolescence? Results From a Prospective Longitudinal Study