OMAHA – While a large number of experts believe increased television watching by adolescents can and does lead to behavior issues later in life, a new report from a University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) researcher has found that genetics plays a much bigger role.
In a paper soon to be published by the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Joseph Schwartz, an assistant professor of criminology, and Kevin Beaver, professor of criminology at Florida State University, found that while those who watch more television are more likely to experience behavioral issues later in life, one does not cause the other; rather, genetics has a hand in both practices.
In the paper, Schwartz and Beaver examined a collection of data that included more than 90,000 K-12 students who were surveyed four times between 1994 through 2008. The collection, known as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, also called Add Health, is one of the largest samples to date used to examine the correlation between television viewing and antisocial behavior.
In addition to the responses tied to television viewing and behavior, the authors accounted for four additional variables, including the willingness of parents to let their children decide viewing habits, household income, age, race and gender.
Also included the study was a set of data for siblings, both biological and non-biological, who lived in the same homes and took part in the survey.
The results showed that, between males and females, males were far more likely to watch television and engage in antisocial behavior. Additionally, each additional hour of daily television watching significantly increased the odds of later antisocial behavior.
Across both the larger group, as well as the smaller sample of siblings, when controlled for the variables of age, race and gender there were no significant differences. However, when genetic influences were taken into account, television watching was shown to not contribute in a significant way to later antisocial behavior.
“Decades of research have revealed that behavior is not the result of nature or nurture, but rather both,” explained Schwartz. “Just about every behavior has been found to be the result of biological and environmental influences. Criminal behavior and media consumption habits are no exception.”
Given these results, Schwartz and Beaver argue that there is enough preliminary evidence to suggest earlier studies may have been skewed by not accounting for genetic similarities. Because of this, suggestions that curbing television time may improve antisocial behavior may not be accurate.
“The results of our study do not indicate that children should be allowed to watch an unlimited amount of television,” Schwartz explained. “Rather, the results indicate that an extra hour here and there is not likely to result in serious behavioral problems later in life. Parents should find these results comforting.”
The authors argue that further studies need to be done to verify the findings, but a framework is now in place to challenge current assumptions.
The paper is currently available the Journal of Interpersonal Violence website for those with a website account or subscription to a participating library service.
Journal publication is scheduled for sometime in the next few months.
For questions, please contact Charley Reed, UNO Associate Director of Media Relations, at 402.554.2129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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