Impact of Television Screens on Nervous Tics

According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, tics are sudden, painless, nonrhythmic behaviors that appear out of context. Simple motor tics are brief, meaningless movements like eye blinking, facial grimacing, head jerks or shoulder shrugs. They usually last less than one second, but can last longer, occur frequently and be more serious..

For those who have never witnessed this affliction, YouTube posted a video of a tic-stricken person watching TV. Tics are often related to a more severe related disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome.

Tics Related to TV Viewing and Video Games

A UK group called Tourette’s Action says that tics usually increase with stress, tiredness and boredom and are often prominent when watching television.

Many others note an association between tics and television watching. However, the cause is not fully understood. Some psychologists believe that tics can be suppressed through concentration; they attribute tic outbursts to relaxation while watching TV. Others see the flickering lights of TV and video games as the culprits. Still others see tics as a genetic disorder and believe that environmental factors may trigger them.

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CRT flicker is imperceptible to most people but may be related to tics in others.

An article posted by The American Nutrition Association in Nutrition Digest notes several types of hypersensitivities associated with tics and says “Television and video games both have a high frequency flicker that doesn’t bother most of us, but often triggers tics. TV and computer video games watched by toddlers are linked to ADHD as well as tics.”

The Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy (ACN) which explores treatments for tics and other neurological disorders sponsors a forum for parents of children with tics. A review of the postings on the forum found that 20 of 27 (74 percent) of parents who eliminated screen viewing for at least a week saw a significant reduction in their children’s tics. Most children with screen sensitivity also had food sensitivities. Several parents noted that correcting food issues, such as hypersensitivity to yeast, eliminated the screen sensitivity.

A comprehensive book on the subject, Natural Treatments for Tics and Tourette’s: A Patient and Family Guide, by Sheila J. Rogers contains numerous stories from parents who found that eliminating or restricting television viewing for children with tics lessened the symptoms.

The book also refers to reports from Japan about eye twitching, muscle twitching and in rare cases, even seizures associated with playing video games. Rogers cites warnings printed in Nintendo manuals starting in 2004.

The good news: Rogers reports that tics were most frequently observed while subjects were viewing cathode ray tubes (CRTs) which have much more pronounced flicker than the LCD, plasma and LED screens being sold today.

A neurotransmitter inside the brain called dopamine may trigger tics in people with hypersensitivity to light. Light strongly affects the body’s production of dopamine. Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., wrote in Psychology Today:
“Since video games and computer use increase dopamine, and tics are dopamine-related, it’s understandable that electronic media worsen tics.  For bothersome tics, I recommend a three week “electronic fast” to normalize brain chemistry and improve sleep (restful sleep improves tics in and of itself).”

We have all become dependent on electronic media; it’s hard to fathom life without screens. This is one more example of how media can impact life in surprising ways.

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7 thoughts on “Impact of Television Screens on Nervous Tics

  1. How interesting that such an obscure facet can be affected by tv and computer screen time. I wonder how many other fairly obscure and not easy to note facets are also affected? There are so many arguments for spending less time in front of the computer or the tv.

  2. Sorry, I don’t have time to keep up with twitter and Facebook though I am on LinkedIn. I’m trying to find that elusive work/life/play/blog balance.

  3. I do have a question. My son was just diagnosed with Tourette’s and tics. It seems like his condition doesn’t even happen while playing on electronics. I tried taking them away for 2 weeks and his condition worsened. I finally gave in and gave them back and his “tics” don’t happen while playing/looking at TV. What do I do? Does it take time for them to adjust to life without electronics the way they were use to?

  4. It still surprises me there isn’t much more research/information on this issue. I have TICS, I’m 20 years old and up until a couple weeks ago I thought I had grown out of them. It has been a very strange journey figuring out what triggers them for me, learning to treat it myself, and the different kinds of tics I have had. I can watch t.v, use my cellphone, go on the computer, but if I play any kind of interactive video-game, I will develop some sort of tic and wont be able to pull out of it for weeks. I’ve done everything from eye’s rolling, nose twitching, ears twitching, making a weird noise out of my mouth, head jerking, and other odd little ones. Needless to say I played a video game for about 5 minutes 2.5 weeks ago, since then I have developed a neck jerking tic, its severity is directly proportionate to heart rate and stress. When I go to work and just try and focus on not doing it and keep my heart rate low, I might do it about 5-10 times in the entire day. If I’m at the gym working out, I have a hard time not doing it every 20-30 seconds. So since then I have cut out all caffeine, no gym, and minimal stress/anxiety, to try and get over it. This time I am getting nervous because it seems to be fairly difficult to shake it, but I am confident I will as I have every other time. I’m not entirely sure where I was going with all of this, but since my case of tics is not entirely chronic, and something different every time, I thought it would be helpful to shed some light on this topic from someone who has been dealing with this my entire life. BY THE WAY, since cutting out all video games since I was about 15, I haven’t hardly had a tic in 5 years.

  5. I am interested in your story about the video game and your new onset. It is now December, has your tic cleared up as you hoped it would?

    This is very interesting to me, I have a grandson who watches much TV and plays lots of video who has just, at 8 years old, really started to be an active tic youngster.

    Please update…

  6. I believe that it is the emotion in the voices of television news announcers that activates my Tourette’s. An hour ago, after ten minutes of watching a TV weather report, an emotional woman news announcer appeared, and my wife noticed my face begin to twitch immediately. I learned recently that there is a career field called Media Psychology, and I suspect that the work of such psychologists is to make TV content more ‘exciting’.

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