You might know people who get so wrapped up in a show that they forgo social interaction until they've caught up to the latest episode. The rest of us are probably waiting for the day when they realize they need actual friends for fun and emotional support, but that day may never come. Scientists have found that television, specifically the pseudo-relationships formed with TV characters, can drive away feelings of loneliness and rejection.
Because Jack Bauer accepts you for who you are.
Using a combination of four studies, scientists have shown that television shows can instill a sense of belonging in people with low self-esteem who have been rejected by friends or family. This is called the social surrogacy hypothesis, which figures that in order to fill the emotional void of social deprivation, a person will establish relationships with fictional characters (as teenagers, many of us had a similar type of relationship with late-night Cinemax).
And Heidi from Tool Time was the first love many young boys in the 90s ever knew.
One study showed that subjects who were experiencing feelings of loneliness felt better after turning on their favorite television programs. Another had subjects writing essays about either their favorite shows or some other random subject as a control. The subjects who wrote about their favorite shows used fewer words expressing loneliness than the control group.
Scientists are not sure whether establishing relationships with television characters suppresses a need for human interaction or actually fulfills that need, but they generally advise against dumping all human contact in favor of the cast of Carnivale.
Except for maybe the dwarf.
Obesity is sort of like a merit badge for watching too much television as far as most of us are concerned, so it shouldn't be surprising to find a scientific correlation between watching less TV and burning more calories. But scientists have found that people who watch less television burn more calories each day than their television-bound counterparts without necessarily engaging in any extra physical activity -- the mere act of using your brain instead of numbing it with hours of Burn Notice is enough.
Bruce Campbell on, brain off.
University of Vermont researchers set up a six-week study involving 36 subjects who ranged from overweight to obese. The subjects watched, on average, five hours of television per day. Scientists cut the television consumption of 20 of the subjects by attaching time-tracking devices to their TVs that would turn them off once the maximum time of use for the week had been reached (these monitoring devices, and the armbands attached to the subjects to track their weekly activity, were presumably set to explode if tampered with). Scientists found that the subjects with limited television time burned an average of 120 more calories per day than those in the control group without doing so much as a single jumping jack.
120 calories is roughly that much chocolate.
Instead, the factors behind the extra calorie-burning were the mundane tasks done instead of watching television, such as reading, playing board games or doing simple household chores. Snacking didn't actually decrease with fewer television hours, either. The participants just switched to more mentally rigorous activities that required more energy to perform.
The average 18-year-old has seen 200,000 violent actions committed on television over the course of his life, including 40,000 murders.
And 75,000 nut shots.
The cold-blooded killer segment of our audience will probably notice that's an excellent violent action-to-death ratio, about five to one. We assume that many of those murders weren't particularly desensitizing and gruesome affairs, probably mostly involving a hero thoughtlessly mowing down an army of clumsy masked goons.
No face, no soul.
But regardless of the severity, the violence we view on television actually does have an influence on our behavior. A study that followed the television viewing habits of 700 children over the course of 17 years found that (again, after ruling out factors like poverty and neglect) more hours of television translated to more violent acts. Scientists found that 22.5 percent of children who watched one to three hours of television per day committed aggressive actions such as threats, assaults, and fights in subsequent years. If the children watched more than four hours per day, the percentage rose to 28.8 percent.
In contrast, only 5.7 percent of kids who watched less than one hour per day would go on to commit aggressive actions against others.
And only 3.4 percent would go on to deserve it.
Now, to be clear, violence in television isn't nearly as large an influence on future violent behavior as is living in an abusive home (or, say, having an obligation to avenge your family after your corrupt uncle usurped the throne), but it is seemingly enough to make otherwise complacent children into burgeoning thugs.
This example, as with many of the previous ones in this article, will no doubt yield many of you (and some in our comment section) to say, "But I watched the shit out of television when I was a kid, and I turned out fine!" That is no doubt true, and by the way, it conflicts in no way with any of these studies. They're not saying TV ruins 100 percent of the kids it touches. Just that you're more likely to have problems if you watch a ton of TV. So go outside instead. Or surf the Internet.
The Internet loves you, always and forever.
And while we're on the subject, check out the Top 100 Animated TV Shows presented by our friends over at IGN.
Stop by Linkstorm to learn how the Internet will cure all your ailments.
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