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Six-year-old TV addicts prefer blank screen to a human face


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Six-year-old TV addicts prefer blank screen to a human face


By OLIVER COLEMAN Mail on Sunday Last updated at 00:20am on 5th November 2006

tv041106_228x151.jpgScientists paired images of smiling human faces with those of a toy boat



Children are now so addicted to television that they would prefer to look at a blank screen than a smiling human face, a new study has found.

The results, described by scientists as deeply worrying, appear to show that youngsters are distancing themselves from interaction with real people because of their constant diet of television.

Researchers found that they reacted as enthusiastically to the image of a television as alcoholics do to pictures of drink.

Previous studies indicated that from birth, people will choose to look at human faces in favour of an object.

But the latest year-long project by academics found that when children were confronted with images of a friendly face and a blank TV set, they were more drawn to the screen.

The first experiment involved 34 five-year-olds, 25 eight-year-olds and 34 adults, who were shown a series of picture cards.

Scientists paired images of smiling human faces with those of a toy boat, a toy train, a doll's house, a tap, a teapot and a wall clock. Without exception, the subjects all responded best to the face.

But in a second test where 22 adults and 145 children aged between five and eight were shown cards pairing a face and a television set, the youngsters looked at the TV first.

Dr Markus Bindemann, of Glasgow University, which carried out the research with Stirling University, said: "It is perhaps not surprising that it is televisions which compete with faces for children's attention. But this is a worrying trend.

"We learn social interaction - how to deal with people and how to read them - from looking at their faces.

"If you just stare at a box, you don't get any genuine interactions. In the long-run that's got to have pretty dire consequences."

Dr Martin Doherty, a psychology lecturer at Stirling University, added: "In all previous research children showed a preference for faces so we tried to come with other stimulus that people would find as interesting.

"For instance, if you were an obsessive trainspotter, you might look to a picture of a locomotive more than the face.

"Or if you were an alcoholic you might look first at a picture of beer.

"This study shows in very simple terms that for children of a certain age there is more interest in television than in people."

Other recent studies have linked a growth in autism with the number of hours children spend watching the box.

And the notion that children learn by watching TV was recently dispelled by research that showed learning skills, such as language, were best accomplished by interaction with adults.

Dr Bindemann said: "Certainly some disorders are caused by impaired social interactions.

"And looking at TV rather than faces is a type of social impairment because you are becoming less interested in what should be more important to you.

"Being able to interact with people is a prerequisite for success at a personal and professional level."

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