Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor Research Proposal

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¶ … television addiction more than a metaphor?

Television addiction is certainly more than just a metaphor. This view is supported by numerous studies and articles that attempt to show that television addiction is a reality that can, some claim, be compared to many other forms of addiction in our society. Studies have shown that, "...research subjects have reported that the television set is a dominating presence whose power they can not easily resist" and "...addicts reportedly felt that they had little control over their viewing" (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 38) However, this leads to the following questions; to what extent is television truly addictive and to what degree is this 'addiction' negative. Much of the evidence that supports the view that television is addictive is anecdotal and this raises the question of the actual reality of television addiction. Another question that will be explored in this paper is whether one can altogether avoid television in the modern age, as well as its positive aspects.

The main article that will be reviewed in this discussion on the possible addictive nature of television is "I', Addicted to Television": The Personality, Imagination, and TV Watching Patterns of Self-Identified TV Addicts by Mcilwraith (1998).

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While this article provides some useful insight into the theoretical and scholarly debate about the addictive nature of television or otherwise, there are also areas that can be critiqued and questioned. Response to this article will form the crux of following discussion and will be supported by additional views from various other sources.

In the article by Mcilwraith (1998), the author states that in general television addiction can be defined as, "...heavy television watching that is subjectively experienced as being to some extent involuntary, displacing more productive activities, and difficult to stop or curtail..." (Mcilwraith, 1998). The author reviews the history of the term ' television addiction' and its acceptance in the popular consciousness.

Research Proposal on Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor Assignment

Importantly, the author notes that there have been comparisons made between television addiction and the formal psychiatric criteria for addiction in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 1994). Some researchers are of the opinion that, "...the behaviors people described in these popular accounts paralleled five of the seven DSM-IV criteria used for diagnosing substance dependence" (Mcilwraith 1998). The significant aspects from research in the article that indicates the formal addictive nature or qualities ascribed to television are as follows:

television consumed large amounts of their time; they watched TV longer or more often than they intended; they made repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut down their TV watching; they withdrew from or gave up important social, family, or occupational activities in order to watch television; and they reported "withdrawal"-like symptoms of subjective discomfort when deprived of TV. (Mcilwraith, 1998)

Mcilwraith also notes that that many theorists believe that television addiction is a reality and not a metaphor. He refers to research by Smith (1986) and others who state that, "... 65% of respondents surveyed believed TV was addictive " and that "... that 70% of a sample of university students believed television was addictive." (Mcilwraith, 1998) This view is also common among educators. However, the article also refers to studies which assert that, there is nearly no empirical support...to tell us whether television addiction exists as a clinical phenomenon or whether it is simply a colloquial shorthand expression of ambivalent feelings about the television medium" (Mcilwraith 1998).

The ambiguity about whether television is addictive in the sense of psychological addiction or not is further complicated by the fact it does not fully subscribe to the DSM-IV criteria. Kubev (1990) and others note that "... television dependence is not recognized as a mental disorder by the DSM-IV" (Mcilwraith, 1998). This in turn leads to the view that television may not be addictive in the clinical sense and that, "... 'addiction' and 'dependence' tend to be overused in popular self-help literature" (Mcilwraith, 1998).

The entire issue of television addiction is based to a great extent on the assumption that television viewing can produce a wide range of negative effects. For example, the article under discussion refers to studies which assert that prolonged television viewing can lead the displacement of other recreational activities (Williams, 1986) and desensitization. Furthermore, another aspect is the television addictions can lead to a reduction of normal and healthy development of the imagination. (Singer, 1993)

One may question some of these assumptions. In the first instance, while it is certainly true that television can have negative effects as stated by many theorists, the fact that television can also have a positive effect on education and adaptive learning opportunities is often ignored. Television can for instance enhance a viewers understanding of the world. In this view 'prolonged viewing" may in fact lead to positive rather then negative outcomes.

This view is contrary to studies that focus solely on the negative outcomes of television viewing; for example, the view expressed by many psychiatrists of the addictive and "hypnotizing, seductive action" of modern television. (Bogart, 1956, p. 263)

This leads to another theoretical view - that an assessment of television addiction should take more cognizance of the way that this addiction often masks or hides other symptoms or factors in the life of the viewer. This is noted in the article by Mcilwraith (1998) and refers to the use of television as an escape or withdrawal from various problems. This aspect has negative consequences in that withdrawal and escape may exacerbate rather than decrease the problem or problems that the individuals may have to face. In the same breath one should also take into account that television can be positive in the reduction of stress and as a form of relaxation.

Content is another variable that is not analyzed in great detail in the theories about television addiction. In fact, as the article by Mcilwraith notes, many studies do not consider content as a significant aspect in the determination of television addiction; which is a point that I consider to be an important factor is the debate about addiction. This refers in particular to the views of theorists like McLuhan who is of the opinion that it is the actual structure of a television set that makes it addictive. As Mcilwraith notes, McLuhan suggested that the structural features of television technology capture and hold viewer attention. McLuhan theorized that the low-resolution TV picture, made up of a few hundred lines of moving dots, required a constant reflexive perceptual closure response on the part of the viewer, which accounted for the paradoxical "passive involvement" of TV viewers. (Mcilwraith, 1998)

This view does not take into account the way that content influences possible addiction. It is a well-known fact that violent content can have decidedly negative outcomes, especially among younger viewers. A child psychiatrist, Arthur R. Timme, concluded that;

Television crime programs have a very deleterious effect on the minds of growing children. I have seen their ideations so colored by witnessing violence, killing, shooting, cheating, outwitting, conniving, etc., that they grow up with a completely distorted sense of what is right and wrong in human social behavior. (Bogart, 1956, p. 263)

The inclusion of content in the assessment of addiction would possibly add greater depth to the analysis of this phenomenon.

After reading the article by Mcilwraith and referring to other sources on the topic, my position is that television addiction is a complex issue that should not be simplistically equated with other forms of psychological and physical addiction. It is also important to note that many theorists state that there has not been sufficient research on the subject for any clear and definitive statement to be made.

What is also clear from the various studies and theories about this alleged from of addiction is that television can act as form of release or escape from other psychological disorders and addictions. In other words, television can be a form of avoidance and tend to hide the symptoms of other issues and addictions. This is a worrying aspect as it means that television itself may not be additive but rather act as an avoidance mechanism for dealing with other addictions and problems.

As the above article also makes clear, on the other hand television can simply be a way of relaxing from the stress and strain of the everyday world and this can be seen as a positive advantage of television. What is disturbing however is that way that television is seen by many theorists to create "passive" viewers. As noted by Mcilwraith and others, studies of television addiction have indicated a reduction of active imagination in many viewers. This is a finding that adds to the negative aspects of possible television addiction.

Content is another issue that I think is not dealt with in sufficient detail in the theories on addiction. This is emphasized by the fact that many theorists do not take content into account in their assessments and rather tend to discuss television as a whole. There is certainly a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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