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TV Lobotomy

TV has desastrous effect on brain. But few people want to deal with to protect themselve and their family. How would you behave if someone tell you "you are a bad mother/father because you let your children watch the TV ?" Autodefense is to refute this fact, to accept TV, to plaid for it. This book is about the impact of TV on humanity.


Michel Desmurget, 2011

This book talks about the effects of TV on children, but also on adults. The different statements are highly documented (there are more than 1000 scientific references). The author has a sense of irony which leads to a nice writing style, and is strongly against TV because of these different facts. The book ends with his different advises about “Should we watch a little bit the TV ?”, question which is frequently asked at the end of his conferences.

Out of the facts related to TV, it helps to understand different things related to education. One I appreciated learning explains partially why “well educated people” reproduce into “well educated children”, and why it is also true for modest and poor people.

Table of Content

Book Introduction

The introduction is a big summary of all problems related to TV. The details are presented in the next chapters. The main points are listed, without proper order nor explicit relationship.

Many people would say that TV is great, because you get in touch with the world, you learn things, you can create your own opinion given the presented facts. At least two problems:

People keep thinking that Africa and some countries in Asia are very poor, where children do not go to school, don’t have any shoes, are starving, etc.. This is an example of “wrong” image of the world. The world is much better than that. (see Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world, Hans Rosling, this is a very good introduction to misconception of our world).

We know since years that TV makes people dull, manipulate people’ opinions. However, people keep watching it. People are not strong, they don’t want to look as the has-been of the group, the one that is not aware of the last episode of a TV series. Some people think that Reality TV is one way to climb the ladder. Parents who are unable to protect their children from TV don’t accept the crude information that “TV is not good for children, nor adult”. They don’t want to think that they are bad parents. So they forgot, and don’t even try to protect them…

Children get attract by food that they’ve seen an advertisement. Teenagers start to starve themselves because they’ve seen diet ads, and actresses with very thing legs. They end up with depression People also think that journalism is science.

On TV, they revisited the Milgram experiment: Instead of scientist asking you to torture someone who gave a bad answer to your question, a TV presenter is enough.

1 hour per day of TV everyday reduces the QI of 0.75 to 1.43. Maybe it doesn’t seem a lot, but how many hours do you look at TV ? There are other screens now (Smartphone, tablets, consoles), and TV is one factor among many others (bad died, bad environment, stress, etc.)

Correlation between obesity and TV, violence/ aggressive behavior and TV, lack of concentration and TV, no diploma and TV.

There are inductive problems: what the TV leads to, like adiction to tobacco, alcohol, unsafe sex. But there is also what it prohibits: language, activity. Watching is not practicing: Even if you listen to many well-known people, from government or from big firms, you will never learn to speak like them.

One hour per day for children of 8-16 month reduce the amount of language by 10%, whatever the TV program: cooking, game, movie, “educative programs” … If you put a children with a native speaker, even if he doesn’t understand a word, the children will learn some sound. If you put the children in front of a video of the same native speaker talking alone, the children will never learn. The time is lost.

The amount of time, cumulated over a year is very large. For a 15 years-old teenager, the average is 3h40 (the book is of 2011, but now there are smartphones). This represent 75% of our free time. Over a year, 1338h, so 56 full days.

TV Anywhere Anytime

The TV Era

TV had the fastest adoption rate: 7 years allowed changing coverage from 5% to 75% of the population, while radio was 14 years, and other technologies took much longer. TV is the new clock: 2/3 of people eat in from of the TV, a 12h, and at 20h, during the TV journal.

Do you learn something ? Yes and No: everyone knows about Rambo, but 1/4 of young Americans doesn’t know who was Hitler, nor UK young know who was Churchill.

Because not everyone in the house is interested by the same program, TV becomes the source of tension. To clear the problem, each member gets its own TV in its bedroom, which leads to more watching time.

Then, it is observed that most children with scholar difficulties have a TV in the bedroom. This leads to less physical activities, less interactions with people, bad food habits, reduction of sleep time.

Now, Internet is replacing the TV among the young. But not really. They go on internet to access replays of TV, movies, so it can be still considered as TV-time. There is a myth of “super-teens” who know of everything work, and the illusion of multi-tasking, where they would be able to do their homeworks, looking at TV, answering SMS, chatting on a messaging system at the same time. Children does not do better than past children, they are not super-human.

Parents Encourage Children to Watch TV

At the start, very young children do not ask for TV. It is parents that show them first. In front of the TV, children don’t move, they are quiet, they don’t ask for anything. Parents are very happy of that, as they can do other activities without being interrupted.

But ironically, 85-90% are suspicious about TV. Not TV watching time, but TV programs: they fear that their child would see sexual stuff. Some parents are lucid: they had “no choice” than to let their children watch TV, but they regret and now they know its hard to turn back. Only 20% of the parents control the time, but control decrease with the age of children.

Watching Time - Everybody Lies

Parents always underestimate the watching time: 1h30 instead of 2h30. Because they are not always on the back of their children, but also because of simple cognitive bias. So the majority think that their children doesn’t watch that much compared to others. People often says that they prefer documentaries to TV-shows. But when you look at the audience part, TV-shows win.

TV programs’ quality is very low. There are two approaches:

The second option is mainly selected. So the intellectual level of these programs is pull down to the lowest level.

TV Stifles Intelligence

The Academic Level is Decreasing on All Sides

There is a continuous trend where the students level in writing, speaking and thinking decrease over time. Some people attribute this trend to the new pedagogical methods which are not adapted and lead to poorer results. To some extent yes, some methods are less effective than other, but TV has an impact.

There are many more mistakes now in a sentence than in the past. Young people do not know either the meaning of complex words. You just need to look at french baccalauréat statistics (les perles du bac), and look at the number of mistakes per line of french. Or to make people pass the exam submitted 40 years ago. There are huge score differences.

Mainstream Channels - Poor Vocabulary Set

The problem with language depletion is that it prevents people from expressing themselves and from thinking clearly, with a rich set of axioms. If you don’t know the word “revolution” and its meaning, you cannot even think about this concept. You could reinvent it, but this is less easy. A speech with very few words, accessible to everyone is one of the characteristic of Hitler ideas. They could be understood by anyone, not just a small elite. When you don’t know the words to express yourself, it is as if you were in a foreign country where you don’t know the language.

Language depletion leads to less precision. The use of a generic word which englobes many ones prevents from describing precisely what someone see:

These generic words prevent people from understanding the true problem. Psychopaths are not necessarily suicidal not annorexic. So it is very easy to shortcut the different nuances by saying “someone sick”.

On the other hand, you have people arguing that some more grammatical errors is not a problem, because children would gain so much at learning how new technologies work. However, they have like the majority of the adults a very basic usage: gaming, watching videos, sending e-mails and messages, nothing really “exciting” with a very “high-level entry”. They don’t even know how to filter information. If the info is in the top 5 of Google, then the information is true. Young people are unable to make the difference between a fact and an opinion, and when a fact if it is real or fake.

There is a test that monitor language understanding, the SAT-V. Since the introduction of TV between 1950 and 1960, 15 years later, the SAT scores decrease from 550 to 500. Ok, it was in the sixties, but we are talking about a recent drop. There were experiments in Canada, in cities in the valley that received the TV in different years. They compared over 3 cities the difference before and after TV introduction. Two years after TV introduction, there was a sharp drop in scholar performances.

This correlation between TV and decrease of academic performances is refuted by several arguments:

For the first argument, children don’t watch educative programs, even if their parents wish. They watch movies, TV-shows, etc. And about educative program, you know, its already hard for one teacher to captivate 25 children. So why a TV would do better, without adaptation to the needs of each child ?

For the second, check the Canadian experiment. Also, TV degrades sleep quality. Bad sleep quality (whatever the reason) leads to lower academic performances. Removing the TV allows to recover easily sleep and we can observe recovery of academic perfs.

Watching or Looking ?

Reading good literature enables to improve language. But not all books are equivalents. If you take “Naruto”, you will not have philosophical discussion with deep language. The goal is not to ask a child of 6 to read Lovecraft, but there are many stuff in between. At least, if the child reads a little bit, he his more likely to read when adult, so he could develop his vocabulary continuously by himself.

The values conveyed by TV are in total opposition to the ones of the school:

These values are completely in opposition with the one necessary to succeed in life.

Zapping syndrome children cannot focus on a task.

How TV impact the brain could be summarized like this: Because sequences are changing frequently, children do not learn to focus on a long period of time. They need frequent stimulus, thing they don’t have when they need to do an exercise.

Also, because young children are left alone in front of the TV, they do not understand the relationship between the different sequences, i.e. the global story. They learn to think “horizontally”, but they do not learn “vertically” where they would get the big picture of what is happening. They can remember fragments or scenes, but not the full story. By having a fragmented memory, children are unable to think as they cannot gather different pieces of information together. The working memory is affected. If you do a complex task with TV in background, for instance preparing pasta, you will fill the pan with water, add salt, put in on the fire, and you will be interrupted by the TV, by an exclamative sequence. You will be stopped in your planning sequence, and would need to focus again on your task. If you are too distracted, you will never put the pasta in the boiling water.

TV channels for babies market their products by saying the program would develop optimally the baby’s brain by providing new stimulus that he would not have otherwise. Images and sound, that’s all. It’s not about touching, moving your body, smelling, interacting. Even if children learn by mimicking, if they do not get feedback, they do not learn. They don’t know if it is the right behavior, done correctly or not.

About educative programs, there are some experiments, showing some new objects to very young children, with the goal of making them learn the corresponding words. Researchers tested 3 conditions: Educative program alone, Ed. program + Parents, Parents with the list of words to learn. Children taught by parents with the list got the best results, and TV alone the worst.

Social Background

There is a note about original social background. There are studies about children adopted VS not adopted (high stimulating VS low stimulating environment). Others were children from poor family are integrated in “high level nursery”. The genes do little. What impact is the environment, how stimulating it is. If a child of a highly favored family is put in front of a TV, the result is the same for one from modest / poor family. The difference between poor family and favored one (without TV) is that the one in a favored family would have access to more educative games (cubes, legos), discover more (larger house), and also, parents cannot offer more than they have: if they have poor cognition, poor language, they cannot transmit more. People with high income have more choice for childcare, they can hire a dedicated person if they don’t have time. For modest family, TV is an option to “keep” children.


If you compare reading a book and watching a movie with the same scenario (for instance, Harry Poter or The Lord of The Ring), if you start by the book, the heroes have no face. You have to imagine them. When you look at the movie, there are real person with specific characteristics. When you read back (or if you haven’t read the book yet), your mind will be imbued with their image. You would not be able to imagine them anymore. You have the same with music: if you listen to your favorite artist, you will imagine the singer. But when you look at a video clip, you will have its real face, you will stop imagining him.

TV and Health

Obesity and Smoking

TV also leads to many diseases. If you let someone on its couch for a few hours, energy is not spent. People watching TV tend to eat snacks, and additionally, because they do a (small) “cognitive” activity, it takes longer to obtain a feeling of satiety. Last, children are very receptive to advertisement and are likely to ask their parent for a particular brand making highly processed foods.

Out of the prevention of other activities, TV leads indirectly to other diseases. The most striking is smoking. In movies, smoking people are often positive people, hero or model within the movie, who is intelligent, viril, good looking, complex, with a good social position, everything someone can be proud of. There are experiments comparing people exposed to movies with / without smoking scenes, and the difference is striking. For instance, Leonardo Dicaprio is often seen smoking, while Tom Cruise not. Leonardo has more smoking fans than Tom Cruise has (in proportion).

Sex in the TV

There was a shift in TV/Movies/Series content, where sex related content appeared and banalized. We don’t talk about porn, we just talk about “familial” movies, where you have an initial story and a love story within. There are two problems:

For the second point, we can detail a little bit. In the movies, sexual act is often between two persons that doesn’t know well each other (they met the first time during the movie). It is a relationship for one night most of the time. It lets people think it is normal to have sexual relationship with anyone, without being engage. (The author has a conservative opinion on the topic, but anyway what do you think a relationship should be, movies present their own).

Next, they never talk about protection. As an adult, you know that it is non-reproductive sex, sex just for pleasure. But for a child/teenager, they don’t measure the risk, they are not aware of. They don’t know there is a risk of pregnancy. Movies always talk about the fun of such relationships, but they never talk about the big mess of being a parent. They never talk about STD prevention (ok, it is a movie, this is a fiction). The problem is not seeing one movie, the problem is about seeing many of them. In some experiments, they measured the age of first sexual relationship, and unexpectedly, teenagers who watch a lot TV/movies lower by 2-3 years this age.

Next, heroes (boys and girls) are highly stereotyped. Man with a fine musculature, and girls for their thin legs and nice breast. These stereotypes leaded to an increase of anorexia, and a decrease of self esteem for many people. Children (and some adults too) don’t know that most actresses have food behavior disorder.


With the introduction of TV, the time to go to sleep shifted … towards the end of the TV program. There are other factors which lead to sleep depletion. For instance, women who work (and where household task are unbalanced) have to do household task after work, eating their free time. But TV has its contribution in, so we need to mention it. Sleep deprivation increases the risk to get many different diseases, and lower cognitive results.

TV and Violence

Movies (and news) are full of violent content (even in cartoons). What we could consider as violent is large, any disrepectful act. This is not necessarily watching blood and guts.

One problem is the legitimacy: in movies (like James Bond), the heroes tend to use violence for protecting himself, but also to obtain what they want. This is not the scheme “I am assaulted, I reply” or “I find another solution to deal with the problem”. As for undesirable pregnancy and sex, movies do not show the side-effects: remords, injuries, hospital, dealing with the family of the deceased. Moralisation is not shown at all, so when people would act violently, they won’t be inhibited by these questions.

People (child or adult) watching a lot of these contents tend to have a higher tolerance threshold to what they consider as violent. For instance, they would consider rape as not very violent and even say that the woman is responsible of this act. They are also more likely to commit acts of violence.

For me, there is an unknown: you have people watching violence on TV, and you have people (soldiers, military, policemen) who see “true violence”. How these persons are affected by that ? Because they are legitimate, how do they behave outside of their work ?

For news, where many subjects present violent facts, this induce a dark-world effect. When hearing this type of news very often, you tend to think that the world is full of very bad guy, that going outside will cost you the life.

Summary of this Book

This book presents the different observed effects of TV on brain and indirect effects on health. TV programs are made to captivate the attention. So running it in background stop you in your task. This prevents from focusing (and for child learning focusing) on a complex task.

For very young children, Educative programs are insufficient because you don’t have interactions and feedbacks that you would have with an adult.

For all ages, vocabulary used is very poor, therefore the language is not very enriched. Plus, with the problem of no-interaction, the words are not assimilated. You won’t learn a language by watching series !

On health, the first problem is obesity: TV eats the time dedicated to other (physical or not) activities. Next, because people want to finish their TV program, they go to bed later, which leads to sleep deprivation impacting cognitive performances.

For the rest, it is about the image of the world that is given. In ads, in movies, lobbies can show how they see the world, what is the perfect man and perfect woman. Associated problems are tobacco and alcohol, where you seem cool and mature until you get a cancer, and sex, where you seem cool and mature until you catch the HIV and get an undesired baby before you finish your studies.

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