TV Brain Wave Published Studies

More frightening reasons why screens are taking over our personalities.
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TV Brain Wave Published Studies

Post by TerryS » Sun Oct 25, 2009 7:50 pm

TV Brain Wave Published Studies

One more new page at tvsmarter:

TV Brain Wave Published Studies

from the textbook

The Neuropsychology of Everyday Life: Issues in Development
and Rehabilitation ... ay&f=false

December 31, 1990

Edited by David E. Tupper and Keith D. Cicerone

Chapter 4 "Cognition and Watching Television"

written by John J. Burns and Daniel R. Anderson

Note: References listed on pages 106-108

Reading the chapter "Cognition and Watching Television" by Burns
and Anderson, it becomes very clear that the authors do not believe
that reading elicits faster brain waves than watching television.
They believe that any slowing (or quickening) of the brain waves
would be due to content rather than the medium.
"Despite the evidence of different patterns of EEG when comparing
television viewing to other cognitive activities such as reading,
this difference does not necessarily mean television is cognitively
less demanding than reading. The fact that only one study effectively
varied content differences across media points to a major deficit in
much of the research comparing TV viewing to other activities. In fact,
the most important finding may simply be that different kinds of content
have different cognitive demand. " - From page 105
Unfortunately there are very few studies looking at EEG brain wave patterns
of television viewing compared to other activities. Of the 5 studies that
have been done (as described in this chapter), three did find greater amounts
of fast brain wave activity while reading than while watching television.
One study found no appreciable difference, and one study found that complex
TV content elicited more fast brain waves than simple reading content.

The authors concluded that the three studies finding slower brainwaves
during TV watching were flawed. The one study that found little difference
was not criticized. And the only study, Radlick (1980), which found that
content mattered much more than medium, was lauded as a excellent,
defining study. Note: All the studies were published except for the
Radlick study which was an unpublished doctoral dissertation.

But to the vast and amazing credit of Burns and Anderson, what they did
do was to publish descriptions of these studies comparing the EEG brain
waves of people reading versus watching TV. They were willing to do this
despite the fact that 3 of the 5 studies discovered results that Burns
and Anderson do not agree with. This is a prime example of intellectual

Personally, I agree with the authors of the article "Television Addiction
Is No Mere Metaphor" - Scientific American (Feb 2002) and Full Text. It
is the frequency of the "Formal Features" (the camera cuts, pans, zooms),
that trigger the "orienting response" that effect brain wave activity not
complexity of content. Note, regarding the one study that found hardly
any EEG difference between TV and reading, perhaps the experimenters
picked TV shows or video that contained very few "formal features",
which would explain the lack of difference. Or it could be that they
only looked at alpha and beta waves (where the differences between TV
watch and reading are minor) and did not look at the very fast hi-beta
and gamma waves where the drop-off while TV watching is quite large. ... -02&page=1 ... tionid=259

Here are excerpts from their chapter, describing the experiments:

Krugman (1971) - The Experiment - Page 99

"Early comparisons between EEG while watching TV and EEG while
reading were based on the popular as well as academic belief that
TV viewing is passive. Based on William James' conceptualization of
duel attention systems (voluntary and involuntary attention),
Krugman (1971) posited that whereas reading involved a series of
successive efforts to attend (demanded voluntary attention), TV
viewing involved little or no voluntary effort. Using an EEG measure
from the occipetal area, Krugman found a preponderance of slow waves
(alpha, delta and theta frequencies) whereas the corresponding
characteristic response for EEG during reading involved little
slow wave activity and considerable high-frequency or beta activity.
He interpreted these findings as supporting the idea that the two
media are processed differently, consistent with James' idea of
two attentional systems."

- Krugman, H. (1971). Brainwave measures of media involvement.
Journal of Advertising Research 11, 3-9.
Also reprinted in the book How Advertising Works ... ay&f=false ... q=&f=false ... f&oq=&aqi=


Weinstein, Appel, and Weinstein (1980) - The Experiment - Page 99

"These hypotheses were expanded and examined in detail by Weinstein,
Appel, and Weinstein (1980). The authors hypothesized that looking
at magazine ads would generate more overall beta wave activity, as
well as more left hemisphere beta wave activity, than would looking
at television ads. They further hypothesized that advertisements that
generated more beta wave activity would also generate higher levels of
brand recall. Based on data from 30 women, they found support for their
hypothesis that magazine ads generate more beta wave activity, but
support for their hypothesis that magazine ads would generate more left
brain beta wave activity and greater brand recall was less impressive."

- Appel, V., Weinstein, S., & Weinstein, C. (1979). Brain activity and
recall of TV. Journal of Advertising Research 19, 7-15. ... ay&f=false ... f&oq=&aqi=


Featherman et al. (1979) - The Experiment - Page 100

"The idea that television viewing may require less effortful processing
than reading was directly examined by Featherman and colleagues (1979).
They speculated that since the majority of people view TV to relax, this
activity would involve a reduction in the frequency of saccades. They also
hypothesized that, when compared with reading, television viewing would
result in reduced levels of cortical activation in the occipital region.
Decreased cortical activation was operationalized as increased alpha
along with decreased beta and theta activity. In an effort to minimize
the environmental differences between the two activities Featherman et al.
(1979) displayed reading material on a television screen."

"Featherman et al. (1979) found a significant decrease in both theta and
beta activity during television when compared to reading. However, while
television did produce a higher level of alpha than reading, this difference
is not significant."

- Featherman, G., Frieser, D., Greenspun, D., Harris, B., Shulman, D., & Crown, P.
(1979). Electroencephalographic and electrooculographic correlates of television
viewing. Final Technical Report: National Science Foundation Student-Oriented
Studies (Grant No. SP178-03698). Hampshire College; Amhurst, MA. ... ay&f=false ... f&oq=&aqi=


Walker (1980) - The Experiment - Page 100

"Walker (1980) had a group of university students engage in a variety of more or
less demanding cognitive tasks, including resting with eyes closed, counting
backwards, reading and viewing television. Walker recorded EEG during these
activities, giving special attention to levels of beta and alpha. His results
indicated that reading and television viewing were associated with the highest
levels of beta and lowest levels of alpha. Comparisons between reading and
television viewing revealed that although reading was characterized by slightly
higher levels of beta and slightly lower levels of alpha, these differences were
not statistically significant. The general pattern of results from these studies
are slight, often non significant, differences between the media."

- Walker, J. (1980). Changes in EEG rhythms during television viewing; Preliminary
comparisons with reading and other tasks. Perceptual and Motor Skills 51, 255-261. ... ay&f=false ... f&oq=&aqi=


Radlick (1980) - The Experiment - Page 100

"In a similar vein, Radlick (1980) used EEG recordings in an attempt to determine
if television viewing could be characterized as different in terms of processing
demands when compared to reading and resting. To assess the possible effects of
within-activity complexity, however, Radlick included four television stimuli
varying in terms of content complexity as well as visual and auditory complexity.
Radlick's results indicated that while reading produced more depth of processing,
mental effort, and left hemisphere activation than the less complex television
segments, the more complex television segments produced more depth of processing,
mental effort, and left hemisphere activation than reading. This result indicates
that content complexity is the determining factor in the EEG Studies comparing media.
In most of the studies content was not controlled. Like Krugman (1971) and
Weinstein et al. (1980), Radlick interpreted decreased alpha and increased beta
as reflecting increased cognitive processing. Radlick also concluded that the
rapid pace of visual or auditory television stimuli did not produce reduced
attention or arousal."

- Radlick, M.S. (1980). The processing demands of television: Neurological
correlates of television viewing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. ... ay&f=false ... f&oq=&aqi=


Burns and Anderson's Criticisms of 3 of the 5 studies:

Krugman (1971) - The Criticism - Page 99

"Krugman's widely publicized findings were based on EEG recordings of one subject
who was told to first look at several magazine ads, then to watch three commercials.
The subject spent 15 minutes looking through the magazines before viewing the
commercials, which were repeated several times. Though his findings are interesting,
the use of a single subject limits their generalizability."
Weinstein, Appel, and Weinstein (1980) - The Criticism - Page 99

"While Weinstein and colleagues provide justification for acceptance of the hypothesis
that looking at magazine ads produce more beta, subsequent interpretations and
manipulations of the data used in assessing their remaining hypothesis are open
to question. For example, they based their conclusions on data based on 18 of the
original 30 subjects, those 18 subjects selected in order to maximize differences
between conditions. In addition, the authors contended that since beta waves are
indicative of increased attention, the magazine ads were more close attended to
than the television ads. It is relevant to note that although there was some effort
made to control for content differences in the two media by matching print ads with
their corresponding TV ads, this manipulation does not eliminate the possibility
that content differences accounted for their findings. A difference in task difficulty
as a function of content may explain why subjects exhibited proportionally more beta
wave activity when looking at magazine ads than when looking at TV ads."
Featherman et al. (1979) - The Criticism - Page 100

"With regards to saccades, these authors found that the frequency was somewhat reduced
during television viewing when compared to reading. They pointed out, however, that
these results may be confounded because content differences within TV viewing and
between media viewing conditions were not controlled. These latter results are, in
many respects, similar to those obtained by Krugman (1971) and Weinstein et al. (1980)."

When they wrote this chapter, Burns and Anderson were quite skeptical of the published
experiments showing that the brain waves of people watching TV are slower than the brain
waves of those same people while reading. Similarly, I am quite skeptical of the published
study showing hardly any difference. And I am especially skeptical of the unpublished study
finding that content is all-important.

The reason I am skeptical of these 2 studies, is that I have done the experiment numerous
times myself and have consistently found that reading a novel elicits much greater amounts
of hi-beta and gamma brainwaves than watching TV (especially TV with frequent "formal features").
Drawing and playing guitar elicited even more hi-beta and gamma brain waves than reading
or watching TV.

All these published studies were done before 1980, back when computing power was very expensive,
and only scientists and doctors had access to EEG machines. But now, amazingly powerful personal
computers are available to anyone, and EEG machines have also come down in price. That is,
anyone with access to an EEG machine can do the experiment for themselves. Just 10 minutes of
TV watching, compared to 10 minutes of reading, compared to 10 minutes of whatever mental
activity of your choice. Most importantly compare the hi-beta and gamma brainwave results.
Then, I would most appreciate it if you were to email me the results at terry at
or post at Comments and Feedback or anywhere else
on my blog:

These scientific studies were done before the rise of the internet, which is one reason why it
is almost impossible to find descriptions of these studies. It is very important for scientists
to do well-designed versions of these experiments, using up-to-date equipment, and publish the
results. Scientific results would provide an objective basis for people to decide for themselves
whether TV is a mentally stimulating and engaging medium or just an effective way to zone out
and relax. Also, results would provide a rational basis for deciding which, from a brain
development point-of-view, is the better show, "Mr. Rogers" (few formal features) or
"Sesame Street" (frequent formal features).

"But why does television have such a negative effect on children of this age? "We believe
that one reason is the fact that it exposes children to flashing lights, scene changes,
quick edits and auditory cuts which may be over stimulating to developing brains" says
Professor Christakis. "TV also replaces other more important and appropriate activities
like playing or interacting with parents." - Scientific Blogging (Jan 2009) ... _harm_good

Note: scientists have done a large number of EEG studies, looking at what makes a commercial
more effective. On the other hand, scientists have only completed 4 published studies
comparing the brain waves of people watching TV compared to them reading or some other
common activity. Considering the huge amount of TV that young children watch, this oversight
is mind-boggling and disgraceful.

For example:

- "Attention and Brain Activity While Watching Television: Components of Viewer Engagement" ... 622~db=all

- "By scanning the brains of volunteers, advertisers can discover which brands consumers respond to." ... 662148.ece

- "Brain scans are helping advertisers find out how to light up customers' brains, reports Paul Bray" ... o-buy.html

- ""This is the next generation in market research," said Hans Lee, chief technology officer for
mSense Corp. The San Francisco startup also is using electro encephalograph, or EEG, technology
to correlate brain activity with physiological cues such as skin temperature or eye movement to
gauge how people react to ads, computer games, even presidential candidates. ... 01&sc=1000

Dry Lips
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2009 9:47 am

Post by Dry Lips » Mon Oct 26, 2009 11:43 am

Excellent post!

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