Television Addiction

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Addicted to Television

The temptations that can disrupt human life are often caused by pure indulgences. That which we most desire may ultimately harm and destroy us. For example, no one has to drink alcohol. Realizing when a diversion has gotten out of control, such as alcohol, is one of the greatest challenges of life. These excessive cravings do not necessarily involve physical substances. Gambling can be compulsive, leading to great financial distress; sex can become obsessive, often altering a persons mentality and behavior. However, one activity is repeatedly over-looked. Most people admit to having a love-hate relationship with it. It is America's most popular leisure past-time, the television. It is undeniably the medium that attracts the most American attention. Numerous studies have been conducted on the marvelous hold that the television has on its viewers. Percy Tannenbaum of the University of California at Berkeley has written: "Among life's more embarrassing moments have been countless occasions when I am engaged in conversation in a room while a TV set is on, and I cannot for the life of me stop from periodically glancing over to the screen. This occurs not only in dull conversations but during reasonably interesting ones just as well." Is the television a means of innocent entertainment, or is it a medium that will lead to the unavoidable addiction and dependency? What is it about television that has such a hold on us? Scientists have been studying the effects of television for decades, usually focusing on whether or not there was a direct correlation between viewing violence and acting violent in real life. Less attention has been paid to the basic allure of the small screen, the actual medium instead of what can be viewed on its screen. Scientists who have studied television addiction have come to the conclusion that it is real and affects many Americans without there knowledge. Substance dependence can be characterized by criteria that include: spending a lot of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated efforts to reduce use; giving up important activities to use it; and exhibiting withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. It does not necessarily mean that those who watch television are immediately categorized as dependants; it is only for those that notice that they should not be watching, yet find themselves unable to reduce their viewing. What causes our profound interest in the television? The amount of time that people spend watching television is astonishing. The average individual will devote three hours a day to watch television. At this rate, a person who lives to be 75 would spend a total of nine years in front of the television. Based on polls taken in 1992 and 1999, two out of five adults and seven out of ten teenagers said they spend too much time in front of the television; roughly 10 percent of the adults called themselves television addicts. To study the physical and mental reactions to television, scientists have conducted experiments monitoring brain waves, skin resistance and the heart rate of people watching television. After analyzing the data, scientists discovered that people viewing television reported feeling relaxed and passive. More relaxed than while reading a book. Studies have also shown that the relaxation caused from watching ended once the television was turned-off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continued. Viewers reported having difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people repot improvements in mood. After watching television, people report that their moods are about the same or worse. One of the reasons that we are so attracted to the television is our "orienting response". First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927,

" … the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel...
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