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Watching TV And Attention Span Probably Have Nothing To Do With Each Other

09/11/2014 11:26 EDT | Updated 09/11/2014 11:59 EDT
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The onward march of film technology neither harms children's cognitive abilities nor shortens their attention span in the short term, according to a small recent study by researchers at Keele University in the UK which they presented recently at the British Psychological Society's Developmental Psychology Section annual conference in Amsterdam.

In an interview with Relaxnews, senior lecturer in music and film studies at KU Dr. Nicholas Reyland outlined that the context for the team's research was parents' concern that the increasingly complex visual footage and sound effects in movies and TV shows could be intrinsically harmful, making it harder for children to absorb information and follow the story line.

"Even 'Postman Pat' has changed so much," Dr. Reyland told Relaxnews, referring to a nearly 35-year-old animated BBC series for children. "There used to be no more than three camera changes per episode, now there are at least three every ten seconds."

Dr. Reyland was inspired to work on the study after observing his own children develop a preference for more relaxed, vintage series and wondered himself what kind of effect the increasingly frenetic pace of children's television programming could bring.

To tackle the question, Dr. Reyland and his colleagues visited the homes of 41 children: 21 three-year-olds (13 girls and eight boys) and 20 four-year-olds (10 girls and 10 boys).

"We thought it was important to observe them in a naturalistic setting," Dr. Reyland told Relaxnews, adding that all children involved in the study were at least vaguely aware of the series before the experiment.

They observed them watching both a vintage and a modern version of "Postman Pat" after which they were given comprehension tests and a cognitive task using a popular toy called Block Buddies.

Dr. Reyland told Relaxnews that the children paid more attention to the modern, fast-paced version of the series, but that it made no difference in their behavior or in their ability to perform following viewing.

In fact, they performed slightly better on the cognitive task afterwards, although the younger set was the least attentive to the material.

"It's reassuring to discover that fast-paced programs have no detrimental effects on young children's behavior in the short term, and important to know that they sustain children's attention and may even give them a slight boost in ability to undertake other tasks," concluded lead author Dr. Alexandra Lamont, a senior lecturer in music psychology, although she cautioned that many questions remained regarding this complex area of research.

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