Young child watching television

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. —  Does watching TV impact a young child’s attention span? Earlier studies have attempted to link ADHD and other attention disorders to devices, asserting that screen time can significantly affect behavior. However, a more in-depth study suggests otherwise.

Approximately 6.1 million children in the U.S. have ADHD, and according to scientists, the number of adult cases is rising. How watching television and other forms of screen exposure play a role in the development of attention problems has been highly debated in recent years. Researchers from East Tennessee State University examined data from a 2004 study that linked TV exposure in children to the development of ADHD. The team, led by Wallace E. Dixon, Jr., a professor and department head of psychology at the university, conducted a more comprehensive investigation of the data by creating 848 different questions.

This method, referred to as multiverse analyses, enabled the team to ask essentially the same question hundreds of times. All questions were focused on early childhood TV exposure and ADHD development. The team compared the answers to one another and to the data compiled in 2004.

“The findings from the original study, upon further scrutiny, are not borne out. We found that there is still no evidence that TV, by itself, causes ADHD or any kind of attention problems in young children,” Dixon says in a statement. “Our research also tells us that it’s important to be skeptical of earth-shattering findings that come in the form of ‘something that everybody is doing harms our children.” The overwhelming majority of studies indicated that there was no correlation between early childhood tv exposure and ADHD. The handful that did show a possible link, according to the researchers, indicate certain anomalies which are unlikely to be a correct representation of reality.

“What excites us about the research,” he continues,  “is that we can ease up on blaming parents or making them feel guilty for letting their children watch television when they are very young.”

This study is published in Psychological Science.

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