TV Zombie

"The Awful Truth About Television: The Zombie Look"

TV's got your attention

Once your attention is glued to the screen due to the orientation response, some very strange, but subtle, things start to happen to your brain, when you watch TV. The effects can feel somewhat pleasant and relaxing, at least while the TV is on.

Zombie eyes

Look closely into the eyes of anyone who is watching TV. Most of the time they have a zombie-like, spaced-out, empty look to them. Unfortunately, there have been very few studies done to examine this phenomenon. The few published studies present a rather frightening picture of what the human brain looks like when it is hooked to a TV.

Watching TV may feel relaxing. TV has a remarkable ability to shut out the rest of our crazy world. All the world's problems vanish as your TV program wraps you in a cozy Never Land; or so it seems.

Brain goes into hypnotic state

In fact, the brain goes into an alpha brainwave state. This state feels relaxing. Viewers become less alert and more passive. The state is comparable to hypnosis.

Surprisingly, the lowered alertness and feelings of passivity do not end after viewers turn the TV off. The culprit for this effect is most likely the cathode ray tubes in the TV monitors, which can produce a flicker that the conscious mind does not detect.

According to a Scientific American study, “survey participants commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted. They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before.

Early experiment showed children passive when watching favorite programs

Other studies have linked the passivity to the left side of the brain shutting down. The left brain is primarily responsible for logical analysis and thought. In the Mulholland experiment, 10 children watched their favorite television program, while the researchers monitored their brainwave patterns. The researchers expected that the children would show a preponderance of beta waves. This would indicate that they were involved and responding to their favorite programs. Instead, they stayed in alpha. “They just sat back. They stayed almost the whole time in alpha. That meant that while they were watching they were not reacting, not orienting, not focusing, just spaced out,” said Dr. Eric Peper.

Similarly, in the early 1980’s, researchers in Australia found that the left brain "sort of went to sleep" once TV was switched on but the right brain was busy "storing information in its memory bank".

Scandalously, there has been virtually no follow up on these experiments. Researchers could not get funding. Aside from a few early experiments in the US and in the 1970’s and early 1980’s in Australia, the neurophysiology of watching television is relatively unexplored.

Moods are the same or worse after turning TV off

Furthermore, researchers found that after they turned off the TV, people's moods were about the same or worse than before they turned the television on . Television may provide a quick fix for emotional problems, but it lasts only as long as the viewer is watching TV. If viewers are trying to avoid painful feelings, those feelings will return immediately when they turn off the TV.

Critical brain functions shut down

What these studies show is that the right side of the brain may be dutifully absorbing all the images from your television screen, but the left side, which does critical analysis, is lulled into a stupor by the television’s flicker. This makes analysis of the images difficult. It also makes it difficult to remember exactly what you have been watching. Furthermore, the research suggests that the left side of the brain may remain in a stupor even after the viewer turns the TV off.

This has profound implications for watching news and other forms of educational TV. In some ways, it is a form of learning. At best, however, TV learning is comparable to sleep teaching. That may have some use, especially for producers of commercials. However, for subjects that require analysis and careful thought, the TV is virtually useless. It is more effective to read newspapers to learn about world events, than to watch it on a screen.

TV causes ADHD symptoms in children

Television can be especially damaging to developing minds. A disturbing 2004 study found that watching TV at ages one and three caused attention-related problems at age 7. The attention problems included whether the child had difficulty concentrating, was easily confused, was impulsive, had trouble with obsessions, or was restless. These are symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

The researchers speculate that the developing brain may be more vulnerable to the over-stimulation of TV. Both the researchers and the sponsors of the study, The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that parents exercise caution in letting their children under the age of 2 years watch any television.

This particular study only looked at very young children. However, given the other effects on the brain discussed earlier, especially the effects on concentration, it is likely that the television set is causing attention-related problems in older children and adults.

What will be the effects of HDTV?

Very little is known about how the new high definition TVs (HDTVs) will affect brain function. Given that the technology involves staring at a more detailed picture, it is possible that the effects will be the same as regular TVs, but significantly stronger. Viewers will basically be guinea pigs in a giant experiment.

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.

Mander, Jerry. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Morrrow Quill Paperbacks: New York. p. 210
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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