In the University of Washington study, researchers devised a “media diet intervention” in which parents were assisted in substituting prosocial and education programming for more violent fare. However, the parents were not asked to reduce their children’s total viewing time.
The study involved 565 Seattle-area parents with children ages 3 to 5 and lasted a year. A control group of children were allowed to watch television as they usually did, while the intervention group was steered toward programming that featured nonviolent conflict resolution, cooperative problem solving, manners and empathy. (Examples of such shows included “Dora the Explorer,” “Sesame Street” and “Super Why.”)
Both groups of children were evaluated for their social competence after six months and after 12 months.
The intervention group showed “significant improvements” in social competence testing scores after six months, wrote Dr. Dimitri Christakis, lead author and pediatrics professor. Low-income boys appeared to benefit the most, authors said.
“Although television is frequently implicated as a cause of many problems in children, our research indicates that it may also be part of the solution,” authors wrote.
The authors of both papers noted that the studies were limited in some respects.
Authors of the New Zealand study said it was possible that antisocial behavior itself led to more television viewing.
And authors of the Seattle study noted that while parents were not told of the purpose of the study, they may have figured it out and modified their behavior, biasing the results.