Studies, studies, studies. There are all kinds of studies out there, and new ones are popping up all the time. There are studies that say cell phone use may cause cancer, coffee can help protect you from Alheimer’s, and even one that states drinking an alcoholic beverage each day may benefit women’s health. Of course there’s the old favorite: “TV will rot your kid’s brain!”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should only have 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” per day. For children under the age of 2, they go even further and say, “No TV for them!” Studies have shown that being exposed to too much TV can be detrimental to your child’s health. Potential issues they may develop include aggressive behavior, obesity, substance abuse and poor school performance. Of course when a statement like that is made, more often than not somebody steps up to offer the opposing view. In a Slate article earlier this year, writer Austan Goolsbee stated most studies about children and TV are “seriously flawed.” These studies don’t take the kids’ living environments into account. He posits that kids who watch very small amounts of TV tend to be from much wealthier families than those who watch several more hours a day.
“The problem with comparing them to kids who watch a lot of TV is like the problem with a study that compared, say, kids who ride to school in a Mercedes with kids who ride the bus. The data would no doubt show that Mercedes kids are more likely to score high on their SATs, go to college, and go on to high-paying jobs. None of that has anything to do with the car, but the comparison would make it look as if it did.”
Goolsbee goes on to cite a study that showed TV made little to no difference in children’s test scores. Therein lies the problem. Every time a study gets published, another study comes out later refuting it. Who are we to believe? Remember the “Mozart makes you smarter craze?” Something about improving spatial-temporal reasoning or the like. The popularized version of the theory, the “Mozart effect,” stated that “early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development.” Not everyone was a believer, as the theory was listed as one of the “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology” by Emory University phsychologist Scott E. Lilienfeld in his book. This was also debunked more formally in a study by University of Vienna researchers Jakob Pietschnig, Martin Voracek and Anton K. Formann.
The University of Vienna researchers’ key finding is clear-cut: based on the cumulated evidence, there remains no support for gains in spatial ability specifically due to listening to Mozart music. “I recommend listening to Mozart to everyone, but it will not meet expectations of boosting cognitive abilities,” says Jakob Pietschnig, lead author of the study.
Of course music can greatly effect your moods, but it can’t physically change the way your brain is structured. Not in the way Sylar restructured his own brain on the TV show Heroes. Or if it did, could we simply take all the bad kids in school, strap them down into a chair all Clockwork Orange style, and force them to listen to classical music for 100 hours straight. Then would they all come out calm, brilliant and ready for some of that good old-fashioned learning?
Of course not. Life doesn’t work that way. This doesn’t mean all studies are worthless, they just need to be taken with a grain of salt. There are definitely some important studies out there, and the ones that have to do with health should be taken very seriously. However, it’s imperative to keep everything in context. And know there is always an opposing view waiting around the corner. The best thing to do is educate yourself as much as you can on the facts. It’s much better to be armed with an informed opinion, than to simply jump to conclusions.