TV Attention

The Awful Truth About Television: TV "grabs" your attention

Watch me!

Have you ever noticed that it is difficult to avoid looking at a TV if one is playing nearby? This is neither an accident nor a weakness on your part. Virtually all TV programs use cinematic tricks to ‘grab’ and ‘hold’ the viewer’s attention.

The Orientation Response

Human brains are hard-wired to turn their attention to things that suddenly change in the environment. This is an evolutionary benefit, because it helps the people evaluate potential threats. The body relaxes while the brain gathers information. The scientific term is the "orienting response".

Television shows exploit the orienting response. Sudden changes in 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.

Even quality shows have attention grabbing changes

Commercials, action movies, and music videos are notorious for containing large numbers of these sudden changes that "grab" and "hold" your attention. Even many quality children’s programs, like Sesame Street, contain large numbers of these attention grabbers to keep little viewers watching.

Test it for yourself

A fun exercise to see the orienting response in action is to turn on a TV in a room full of people. Stand back and watch as turn their attentions towards the screen, one by one. Watch entire conversations dissolve. Watch many people stop what they are doing and start to stare at the screen. Alternatively, try to avoid looking at the TV while it is playing in the same room. How long does it take before you glance at the screen to check out the action?

About 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series:

What happens when the average American spends 4 hours 32 minutes every day watching television? Trash Your TV's 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series explores the multifaceted problems with TV in eleven hard-hitting articles. Read the full series and you will never look at your television set the same way again.
Katherine Westphal is the founder of Trash Your TV! and the author of a revolutionary e-book system, The TV-FREE System. Get in control of your TV watching and create the life you want, whether it is to create the body, the mind, the business, the family, or the community of your dreams.

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