It is common perception that books are good for you while television is not. Spending all day curling up with a book in hand will have you labelled as an intellectual, but spending all day watching television and you will be called a couch potato. But why is this so? Does it really have a profound impact on our brain? Does television really kill brain cells? With the assumption that they are of the same content, this article seeks to find out the differences that books and television has on our brain.
What does science say
In 2013, researchers from Ohio State University tested 107 preschoolers and interviewed their parents to see how television impacted children. It was found that the more a child is exposed to television, even if it was playing in the background, it was more difficult for the child to recognise and understand their parents’ mental state. It was also found that ultimately, exposure to television altered the child’s understanding of their own and another person’s beliefs, intents, desires and knowledge.
A more recent study, published in 2015 revealed that watching too much television can actually alter the composition of the human brain. Researchers studied 276 children between the ages 5 and 18 and discovered that the area of the brain which lower language processing and communication thickened with the amount of time spent in front of the television. In addition, the regions which took charge of emotional responses, aggression and vision were also all enlarged. They suspected that this could be the reason for their lower verbal IQ and psychological difficulties such as emotional and behavioural problems.
On the other hand, books seem to improve language and even sensory motor skills amongst children. A 2013 study saw researchers tracking brain activity of participants every morning using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine throughout the nine days that participants were required to read the novel “Pompeii” in the evening. Afterwards, participants’ brains were scanned for the next five days after the conclusion of reading the book. Even though they were no longer reading the book, their brains still retained the same level of connectivity. Researchers found that the prolonged and measurable brain boost in the regions that controlled language and sensory motor skills, could improve brain connectivity over time.
Why the difference?
Given that there is no difference in content if you read the Harry Potter books versus watching the movies, why is there a difference in how it impacts your brain? It seems to be because of the nature of the activities. Watching television is very much a passive activity- one can just sit back and watch the story unfold without any effort on their part, making it less likely for one to reflect on what is really happening. Shows also don’t have the indulgence of describing or explaining in great detail a situation, since it is meant to provide entertainment to viewers. However, books are a more proactive way of entertainment and learning. The reader has to concentrate on what is being read and build concepts as the story unfolds. When one reads, it forces them to use their imagination to fill in the gaps of what the author has written.
How you can start
Now that you know the difference between watching the television and picking up a book, the first step in switching your television habit is to break away from your environment. If you surround your friends who talk about television shows or have the remote at arm’s length at home, it is more likely that you are going to switch on the television and watch those shows. Set limits for yourself in the number of hours you can watch television per week and use that extra time to pick up a book from your nearby library and start reading!