While searching for information about the relationship between ADD and different types of monitors, I came across a touching story in the New York Times. Published in 2011 by Perri Klass, M.D., the article titled “Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else” began with the story of boy whose teacher thought he had attention deficit disorder. The teacher urged the boy’s mother to have him tested: “He can’t sit still … He’s always getting into trouble.”
The mother felt her son could not have attention deficit disorder because he could sit for hours concentrating on video games. The physician had heard it all before. He said, “Sometimes parents make the same point about television: My child can sit and watch for hours — he can’t have A.D.H.D.”
“In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.”
But researchers, the article continues, are still trying to determine whether the screen fixation is a cause or an effect of attention disorders.
Some researchers, according to Klass, feel that flickering screens may reward the brain by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine and therefore attract children with deficit disorders. The brains of these children may be deficient in dopamine and they are, in effect, self-medicating with video.
Other researchers fear video may cause deficit disorders. Klass says, “Some studies have found that children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop attention problems later on.”
He cited a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics. It found that viewing more television and playing more video games were associated with subsequent attention problems in both schoolchildren and college undergraduates. The theory goes something like this. In video games, the need to keep responding rapidly in order to win creates hyper-alertness that makes the real world seem under-stimulating by comparison.
Regardless of the cause/effect question posed above, these studies show that exposure to television and video games can affect brain chemistry over the long term. These visual mediums have the power to affect how we feel, how we think, and how we interact with those around us. Tomorrow, I will write about several affective disorders related to television usage that I have personally observed and documented.