Fall 1992, Volume 1, Number 2

Research finds passivity risk for TV viewers

As video choices multiply, viewers may be caught in an increasingly vicious cycle of passivity, according to research published in TV and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience. The more people watch TV, the worse they feel emotio nally and, paradoxically, the harder it is to turn the TV off, writes Robert Kubey, the 1990 books co-author with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The psychologists studied more than 1,200 subjects using a unique methodology of random sampling peoples daily expe rience via electronic beepers. As subjects were signaled randomly seven times a day for one week, they filled out a simple form detailing their activity at the moment as well as their mood and degree of mental activity, etc. When the activity was watchi ng TV, subjects experience was striking and consistent. We found that most viewing involves less concentration and alertness and is experienced more passively than just about any activity, said Kubey in a New York Times op-ed.Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi also found the phenomenon they call the passive spill-over effect. Passivity doesnt stop when the TV is turned off. Feelings of mental and physical lethargy continue for some time, subjects reported. Kubey checked to be sure that other factors, such as lateness of the hour, were not responsible for the phenomenon.Our studies show that human beings are not well designed to enjoy many hours of passivity. Most people feel best, both physically and psychologically, when they are deeply engaged in activitie s that challenge their skills, he said. Kubey teaches at Rutgers University and serves as an advisor to Citizens for Media Literacy.
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