Study examines effects of TV, computer usage

By Masha Stul

The University’s psychology professors revealed there is a tight correlation between time spent in front of computer and television screens and lowered GPAs.

A study of 14 schools recently conducted by the University of Minnesota found that more time spent in front of the computer or TV screen for non-academic activities goes hand in hand with lower GPA, said Dave Golden, director of public health and communication at University of Minnesota.

“The more time you spend in front of the screen, the less time for studying,” said Nick Wolny, senior in FAA, upon learning about the trend. “It’s common sense.”

However, Golden said it remains unclear whether the trend is simply caused by time management issues or whether non-academic screen time actually affects intellectual capacity.

University cognitive neural science professor Arthur Kramer said, in terms of cognition, television and computer use is negative because it is normally not intellectually engaging. He said intellectual engagement enhances brain function and improves cognition, which helps learning. Social interaction, proper nutrition and aerobic exercise do the same, he added.

“When we look at those who spend most time at the screen, they’re also the ones that are least active and eat the most fast food,” Golden said. “It could be a whole bunch of things that are at play.”

Kramer further explained the trend by relating it to his research on rats and older people. Older people who participate in intellectually engaging activities and have friends show higher levels of cognition and lower levels of diagnosis of age-associated neural degenerative disorders, he said.

“This is what you have to look forward to,” he added.

He said rats that are raised in communal cages with aerobic exercise machines have more connections between nerve centers than rats that are raised in solitary, empty cages.

“Rats that are fed high-saturated fat food – the human analogy for eating McDonald’s – learn more slowly,” he added.

Kramer said when it comes to arguably the most distracting student computer activity of all – Facebook – it would be interesting to research whether virtual interaction is as positive for cognition as social interaction in person.

Richard Anderson, professor of educational psychology, said his research on children’s television watching habits also link s intellectually engaging screen time to intellectual capacity.

“We know that there is a negative association between watching TV and reading levels,” he said. “Children that watch relatively small amounts of TV usually watch higher class shows like National Geographic. If they watch more TV, they’ll watch violent adventure shows, Saturday morning cartoons and so on.”

This pertains to how all students start out learning, before GPA is even an issue, he said.

While sitting in front of the screen may facilitate more snacking than jogging, for some students, it also facilitates social interaction and intellectual engagement.

“At my place, it’s about being with your roommates,” Wolny said. “We talk, we comment on the shows. TV creates social activity.”

Cheryl Weyant, alumna, said she uses the computer “for reading the news or for random looking at wiki articles.”

Thus, depending on the situation, students may be enhancing brain function and improving cognition at the expense of spending time on school work. Calculating the net affect of all this on GPA may require growing a few more connections between nerve centers at the very least.

As Anderson said, “‘What’s causing what?’ is the question you have to ask.”