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New study links childhood television viewing and antisocial behavior in early adulthood

 Americans watch a lot of television, with minority youth consuming way more “media” than white youth. To be more exact, black youth watch an average of 13 hours of media content a day compared with about 8 1/2 hours for white youth.

Now, researchers at the Departments of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, and Department of Psychology at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, have published research findings that suggest time spent watching television as a child or adolescent is associated with likely criminal behavior in adulthood.

The researchers studied a birth cohort of 1037 individuals born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1972–1973, at regular intervals from birth to age 26 years and used regression analysis to examine the associations between television viewing hours from ages 5 to 15 years and “criminal convictions, violent convictions, diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, and aggressive personality traits in early adulthood.”

The study was published this week in the journal Pediatrics. The purpose of the study was to investigate whether excessive television viewing throughout childhood and adolescence is associated with increased antisocial behavior in early adulthood.

The findings reveal that young adults who had spent more time watching television during childhood and adolescence were “significantly more likely to have a criminal conviction, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, and more aggressive personality traits compared with those who viewed less television. The associations were statistically significant after controlling for sex, IQ, socioeconomic status, previous antisocial behavior, and parental control. The associations were similar for both sexes, indicating that the relationship between television viewing and antisocial behavior is similar for male and female viewers.”

The study was part of a larger Dunedin multidisciplinary health and development study in which nearly 1,000 individuals were evaluated every two years from birth to age 26. The methodology and design allowed the researchers to differentiate between children who watched a lot of television who became more antisocial from children who were already antisocial.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch less than 1 to 2 hours of television per day.