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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 00:40 GMT
Television: Good for health?
Kids watch TV
Television - beneficial drug of the nation?
By Georgina Kenyon

Television has been blamed for everything from causing couch potato obesity, to harming IQ, to damaging the ability to create close personal friendships.

Television does not prevent people from needing or creating close friendships with people.

Dr Darrin Hodgetts, LSE
Even Andy Warhol said that when he bought a TV set he no longer needed close friends - not that he minded.

But according to researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), television can actually be psychologically beneficial to people and help them create strong bonds with others.

According to Dr Darrin Hodgetts, LSE lecturer in Media and Communications in the Department of Social Psychology television does not stop viewers needing or making friends.

"In fact, television can be used as a ritualistic meeting place to share thoughts and feelings," he argued.

"There is over 40 years of literature in medicine on the problems of television and the media is a battleground on its effects."

"But television can be health reinforcing," said Dr Hodgetts.

Male bonding

Hodgetts has just completed yet to be published studies on how men's psychological health can benefit from meeting and sharing feelings and strengthening friendships such as when watching sport.

As long as children are taught to be screen wise there is no cause for a panic about television

Professor Sonia Livingstone, LSE
"Watching television can reinforce men's social networks," said Dr Hodgetts.

The biggest fear of the effects of television in the scientific community is that it contributes to health problems such as obesity

Researchers even believe simply turning off the television will make you lose weight, simply by making people get up off the couch and look for other things to do.

Parental panic

Television has also been accused of leading to the lowering of a person's IQ over time, allegedly due to a soporific effect on the brain.

Other research has shown that while watching television, the brain is actually less active than when asleep.

But this is nothing to worry about, says LSE Professor of Social Psychology, Sonia Livingstone, who has been studying the effects of television and the internet on children.

"As long as children are taught to be screen wise there is no cause for a panic about television.

"The internet too, can be positively beneficial for social interaction," she said.

Cyber pals

And research from the US School of Communication, Information and Language Studies, Rutgers University, in New Jersey has found that e-mail and web chat rooms enhance and extend a sense of community.

"Cyberspace involvement can create alternative communities that are just as valuable and useful as our familiar, physically located communities," wrote Rutgers University Professor Ronald Rice.

However researchers admit that a "digital divide" has developed between those who have internet access and those who do not.

Research conducted by Prof Livingstone at the LSE, has found that 14% of middle class children in the UK can get online at home, compared to only 2% of working class children.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Health
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13 Aug 01 | Health
TV 'encourages healthy lifestyle'
06 Mar 01 | Health
TV 'link' to Alzheimer's
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