The Effect of Network and Public Television Programs on Four and Five Year Olds Ability to Attend to Educational Tasks

By Geist, Eugene A.; Gibson, Marty | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Network and Public Television Programs on Four and Five Year Olds Ability to Attend to Educational Tasks


Geist, Eugene A., Gibson, Marty, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This study examined the effect of network and public television programs on children's 1) ability to attend to a task, 2) children's time on task, and 3) engagement in rough and tumble play. 62 children were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group watched Mister Rodgers Neighborhood, a Public television program, one group watcher The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a network television program, and one group watched no television for the treatment period and instead played with instructional materials. Results show that there was no significant difference on the attention variables between the Public television group and the instructional activities group. However, the network television program showed a significant difference with both the other groups. No differences were found on the rough and tumble variable. Implications for children's programming and environmental influences on attention are discussed.

Every year more and more children are being diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Knowlton, 1998). ADHD is a congenital often inherited learning disability that can be treated with a drug called Ritalin (Prater, Pancheri, 1999). However, for many children that exhibit ADHD behaviors there is another explanation. Ritalin will not work with these children, because their inability to attend is learned.

Children's attention is developmental (Aldridge, Eddowes, and Kuby, 1994). Toddlers and preschoolers are not developmentally able to sit and pay attention for the amount of time that we would expect of a fifth grader. A general rule of thumb is that children can be expected to pay attention to someone or something for about double their age in minutes. So a 4 year old could be expected to pay attention for 8 minutes. Many of the ADHD complaints by teachers can be attributed to developmentally inappropriate curriculum for children that ask children to sit quietly and pay attention for longer periods of time than what could be expected developmentally (Aldridge, Eddowes, and Kuby, 1998).

However, just as with other aspects of development, attention does not develop in a vacuum. Children develop attention through interactions with other children, activities, adults, and the ever pervasive television (Aldridge, Eddowes, and Kuby, 1994). The fast pace of life at the turn of the millennium has shortened the amount of time that all people have to wait for anything. We have fast food, instant entertainment, instant information through the internet, and many other speedy conveniences. This fast paced environment can hinder children from developing a strong ability to sustain attention for an instructionally acceptable period of time. These children would then have trouble a classroom setting because of learned problems with their selective and adaptive attention.

This study examined four and five year old children to determine if the amount and type of television programs they are exposed to have any effects on their ability to attend to a task. While there is much evidence that ADHD has biological roots (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Knowlton, 1998; Goldman, Genel, Bezman, and Slanetz, 1998), it is our contention that not all children who exhibit problems with attention have ADHD (Aldridge, Eddowes, and Kuby, 1994, 1998; Eddowes and Aldridge, 1993). These children may just not have been in an environment where their attention had an opportunity to develop to an acceptable level for our society. This research will examine the media's contribution to this lack of attention.

Review of Literature

There have been a number of studies that have studies children's ability to attend to the television in various situations. Sanchez, R. P., Lorch, Milich, and Welsh, (1999) investigated visual attention to story comprehension of televised stories in 27 4-6 year old children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Half of the subjects in each group watched the program with toys in the room, and the other half watched without toys.

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