Feb 22, 2013
The more TV a person watches during childhood, the more likely they are to become a sociopath as an adult, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand and published in the journal Pediatrics.
Notably, the study ruled out the possibility that it is preexisting, antisocial tendencies that cause children to watch more television. Instead, what they found was that early television watching was correlated with the later development of antisocial behaviors.
“Children who watch violent TV behave in a violent way afterwards and people who watch a lot of TV are more likely to have bad behavior later in life,” said researchers.
Researchers followed approximately 1,000 children who had been born in 1972 or 1973 in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. Starting at age five, the children were interviewed about their television watching habits every two years. The researchers then compared this information to records of the participants’ criminal convictions between the ages of 17 and 26. Violent convictions, including “aggravated robbery, manslaughter, assault with intent to injure, rape, using an attack dog on a person, and disorderly behavior likely to cause violence,” were noted separately.
The researchers also analyzed the prevalence of aggressive behavior, antisocial personality disorder and negative emotions among the same participants between the ages of 21 and 26.
Antisocial personality disorder, more commonly known as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy,” is a condition characterized by an inability to empathize with others and is strongly associated with antisocial and criminal behaviors including compulsive lying, theft, property destruction and violence.
Unrelated to other risk factors
The researchers found that people who watched more TV as children were also more likely to be convicted of a crime as young adults. In fact, for every hour of TV that a child watched on an average week night, their risk of conviction increased by 30 percent. The link found between violent criminal convictions and TV viewing disappeared; however, after researchers adjusted for potential confounding factors.
Even after adjusting for factors such as socioeconomic status, a childhood history of aggression or antisocial behavior, or parenting factors, the researchers found a strong association between childhood TV viewing and an adult diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. They also found a connection between TV viewing and more negative emotions and aggressive personality traits.
That is, the findings cannot be explained by antisocial children watching more TV and also growing into antisocial adults.
“Rather, children who watched a lot of television were likely to go on to manifest antisocial behavior and personality traits,” researcher Lindsay Robertson said.
Although the reasons that TV viewing might contribute to antisocial personality disorder remain unclear – more for an overabundance of potential explanations than for too few – the researchers said that one thing is clear: reducing childhood TV viewing would almost certainly be beneficial.
“Antisocial behavior is a major problem for society,” researcher Bob Hancox said. “While we’re not saying that television causes all antisocial behavior, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society.”