By Lynn Berry | The world’s biggest leisure activity is watching television. Not walking or reading, not playing games with our children, not engaging with others in outdoor activities. Most of us like to think that television has absolutely no effect on how we think or what we do. We believe that it is a way to relax. Many of us may be surprised to know that television is a controlling medium, relaxing us enough to switch off our analytical brain (the left side of the brain) so that we uncritically, or unlogically, process the information beaming from the television. This means we are less able to make decisions or judgments about what we hear on television.
Our brains undergo a similar process under hypnosis. The similarity between hypnosis and the effects of watching television is unveiled in Dr Aric Sigman’s book called Remotely Controlled. Sigman describes hypnosis as “an altered state of consciousness”; a form of sleepwalking where our mind is influenced by another (the hypnotist or practitioner).
Under hypnosis we become more open to the suggestions of the practitioner and this happens as we are asked to refrain from being critical and relaxed. As we do this, the frontal lobe in our brain alters becoming less connected with the brain so that we switch off. Hypnosis effectively causes a change in the brain so that we use the right side of our brain. What we switch off is the left side used for critical thinking.
While hypnosis may be considered an extreme or unusual solution to certain conditions, it only takes 30 seconds for us to be in a similar state when we switch on the television. Such were the findings from Professor Herbert Krugman in a study conducted in 1971. His conclusion was that we do not think about the information transmitted via television. In other words the way television communicates is a form of brainwashing.
Left in this state for some time can mean that we become less inventive in problem-solving and less able to concentrate. This suits some environments. In the UK, television is used to keep prisoners quiet. It is regarded as one of the best types of control mechanisms by the General Secretary of the Prison Governors’ Association. Prisoners are subjected to the tranquillising effects of television which subdues behaviour, and the other benefit is that it is a cheap and effective way to do that.
The frontal lobe also alters in the brain when watching television. The frontal lobe is an important part of the brain as it is a management type system ensuring that our self-control, moral judgment and attention is planned, organised and sequenced. The concern is that the frontal lobe may be damaged by watching television and this may happen in childhood because the frontal lobe is in a continual stage of development until around 20 years of age.
When children watch television, the frontal lobe is not doing anything with the result that over a period of time this part of the brain doesn’t develop which can then stunt development. A study in The World Federation of Neurology outlined concerns about the impact of visual electronic media (including television) on children because of stunted frontal lobe development which also impacts on their ability to control antisocial behaviour. Playing and interacting with others is recommended to encourage the fibres in the frontal lobe to develop and thicken and to make stronger connections to neurons.
It is not the information itself that causes the problem, but rather the medium. Somehow we are electrically wired to the television enabling information to be absorbed — any information. The medium induces within us a passive state for communication. If we are unconsciously absorbing information, then what is this information doing to the way we think and act? Of course, the medium is a perfect match for advertisers.
How much are we influenced by the opinions of others presented on TV? Ask how you came by that opinion — was it someone else’s opinion that you’ve unconsciously accepted. Is your view of the latest international news event — consider the Russia vs Georgia crisis — shaped by what you hear? For example, I started to believe what I was hearing regarding this ‘crisis’ (ie that one country was the problem), until I was reminded of the history and other related events. Do you find yourself arguing forcefully about an issue then wondered how, or even why, you had that point of view?
The other aspect of television to consider is the amount of negative information that is transmitted. There are a few stories that are uplifting and empowering. Some groups recommend staying away from television particularly the news because of what they see as it’s potential to negatively impact on enthusiasm, positive thinking, and self esteem. Do an experiment and stop watching television for a few days or a week, then assess how you feel in general. Once you start watching television again, reassess.
While we may look after our physical body, eating well and exercising, we also have a duty to look after our mental body, feeding it with positive stimulation. In a positive environment, we become positive, influencing others to be positive.
Source: ‘Weapons of Mass Induction’ an article in Kindred based on an excerpt of a book by Dr Aric Sigman called Remotely Controlled (Kindred 22: Aug 2007 see www.kindredmagazine.com.au)
Sites with suggestions on the use of television with children: