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May 2017
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TELEVISION ADDICTION: FROM THE ORIGINS TO THE EFFECTS


The television as a means of mass communication has gradually transformed the daily habits of many people. At first is was a pastime, then it quickly became a luxury item which few people possessed and finally it became a product of mass consumption, available to everybody. Watching the television is one of the most common daily activities, but this use can often turn into abuse by those who watch it for days and no longer pay attention to what they are watching.

The roots of television addiction

The television is often singled out as an object which is responsible for numerous, negative effects on the public and the reason behind many problems which afflict today’s society. That, however, does not mean we can forget about its merits and educational capabilities and, without a doubt, it cannot take all the blame for the increase in the phenomenon of television addiction in the last few years. Like every instrument of communication, the television can be used for good or bad and it can become an object which people depend on when looking to satisfy their needs and when, in a society like today’s, there is a crisis in an institution which is solved by delegating the problem to this communication device, which should not be done as it is not designed for this purpose.

Television addiction, like many other types of modern addiction, is in fact the product of a meeting between some modern psycho-social factors and certain behavioural factors; the former provide fertile ground on which erratic behaviour can develop and which can degenerate into various forms of addiction, which can occasionally be found in the same person. When people suffer from modern addictions, such as television addiction, other addictions, which are related, can often be seen; for instance, internet or shopping addictions may cause television addicts to buy the products advertised on the television.

Psycho-social factors

The main psycho-social factors which have fostered abusive behaviour towards the television concern certain transformations of social functions released by the television, which has gone from being an informative and entertainment instrument used in our free time to being a real educational instrument for children and provider of models for adults, thus becoming a humanised instrument which one can even go as far as saying is a virtual friend, which is sometimes preferred over real friends. The two traditional purposes of the television, to inform and entertain, have been exaggerated to the point that two different types of approaches have been created:

  • the first is that the television takes on the role of absolute reality, which is undeniable and undisputable;
  • the second is that a mass communication device = a pastime, and the most common device is the television.

All of this has meant that may people have less real life experiences and it has increased interactions via mass media, which can cause confusion between virtual reality and concrete reality. 

Televised reality began to produce real life role models which became examples to imitate, not just for children and adolescents, which are increasingly often brought up and educated by the TV-parent, but also adults who, more and more often, are won over by characters which appear in television series, action films and variety shows. A lack of real life models has left a void which televised models has filled and with whom people can identify themselves with and whose behaviour is studied in depth, for hours and hours, so people can internalise and reproduce it.

The presence of people who we can see, listen to and whose stories we know (whether real or not) has led to humanisation of the television and has given the television the social role of a friend, who is often very important to the viewer, especially in old age, and is sometimes abused by those who are at an age when it would be better to spend time with real peers and friends.
Quite often, if television wins more and more time in people’s lives, it is because there are problems with the family, school and socialising, or because the television has been welcomed too easily since it represents reality so well that it can almost replace it or fill in the parts which are missing in response to the need to make or re-make an identity.
Add to this the ever increasing complexity of social organisation; in the face of this virtual life becomes an easy place to run away to when seeking to expand your personality and find new fashions icons, which allow you to successfully keep up with the times.

The major impacts of these social factors have transformed the daily habits of many people, playing on some behavioural factors which turn into addiction.

Behavioural factors

Amongst these factors, two behavioural attitudes play important roles in the development of television addiction: teleabuse and telefixation.

Teleabuse

This refers to quantitatively excessive contemplation of the television, which occurs regularly, systematically and daily. It should be noted here that the input of the television into people's daily habits has made it difficult to draw the line between normal use of television and its abuse, which can lead on to television addiction.

Telefixation

This is another behavioural source which leads onto television addiction and it usually coincides with a tendency to contemplate abnormally about television, in dark rooms, watching in silence and sitting completely still, either alone or ignoring other people who are present. 

This aforementioned behaviour is extremely important in the etiology of television addiction as it shows a willingness to let yourself be completely captured by televised messages, which can easily become hypnotic.
The power invested to the television, through this passive fixation behaviour, doubles the normal hypnotic potential of the television, which has the intrinsic ability to saturate all of our sensory channels, creating a situation of overload which is a good base from which to mildly change our conscious state. This last factor must not be considered neither as televised violence, nor as a negative state, however it can become a negative state if, through habit, it turns into a psychological condition which mediates televised messages which are not controlled or actively selected.
Televised language actually includes images, sounds and feelings which can stimulate all of our senses, especially in people prone to this and in the right environmental conditions like darkness and silence, which naturally induce a ‘twilight’ like state, and it can activate a sensory confusion that, in turn, activates the emotional part of our brain (the right hemisphere), leaving little space for rational thought.

For these same reasons, rather erratic behaviour is called abnormal fixation, or more precisely the habit of watching television whilst doing intellectual activities, not so much because then you can limit these intellectual activities, but rather because of the risk of keeping the left side of the brain too busy, which is the side delegated to logic and critic and which is very good at filtering messages received from the television. Individual differences in televised suggestibility, the regular presence of the television in public places and daily use of it for many hours makes it ever more difficult to comprehend when one is abusing the television and when one is, unconsciously, subject to telefixation.
The biggest difficulty in identifying real television addiction behaviour lies in the victim’s initial tendency to deny the problem.

Recognising television addiction

There are important quantitative and qualitative indicators which help us to understand if our consumption of televised communication is excessive, bad quality and if, by responding to some psychological needs, it risks leading on to an actual addiction. 
Abuse and telefixation do not coincide directly with television addiction, which manifests itself in behaviour which is similar to that of substance addiction, including withdrawal symptoms which can be seen in the absence of consumption. 
Certain types of behaviour are listed below which should raise suspicion of television addiction.

The main signs of television addiction:

  • watching television for more than 2-3 hours a day;
  • telefixation or abnormal fixation;
  • euphoria or excitement when watching favourite programmes;
  • reduction in leisure activities so as to watch television;
  • depletion of social relationships and lack of interest when given exciting invitations, ignoring people when watching television and not tolerating interruptions or comments from others;
  • reduction in critical skills and mental passivity towards content shown on television;
  • confusion between reality and televised reality and considering what was said on television to be reality and superior to everything else (addicts may even  use of sentences from a television programme in real conversations);
  • withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, irritability and nervous agitation, from the moment that the victim no longer has a television available and, if there is one, tries to resist the urge to turn it on;
  • the desire to buy products advertised on the television;
  • abnormal and recurring worry associated to news broadcasted on television.

Television addiction is not an all-or-nothing addiction which one either has or does not have and, in fact, there are often signs of intermediate addiction related to people’s personality characteristics.
In other cases, the problem can cause striking and irrational behaviour, for example, renting a television or asking to borrow a friend’s television when the addict’s does not work, or even watching more than one programme at a time on numerous televisions.
Furthermore, not all television addicts are the same because, although the behavioural factors which lead onto television addiction are always present in every addict, there are individual differences related to the psycho-social reasons which will have fed this type of behaviour, intertwining themselves into the addict’s personal story. In fact, whilst some people do not tolerate any type of interference when watching a programme which represents role models to live up to or instruments to (virtually) satisfy the addict’s personal, frustrated needs, others use television addiction so they can be alone. These latter addicts are actually less interested in the actual content of the programmes and pay more attention to the virtual company, which replaces real friends.

The above described behavioural symptoms of television addiction clearly show that people prone to this addiction have personal problems with social relations because they do not enjoy them very much.
This explains why the main categories at risk are pensioners, insecure people or those who, for one reason or another (tired from work or for emotional or personal reasons for wanting to stay alone for a while) reduce their contact with people and the outside world.

Moreover, there are two major risks which television addiction, like teleabuse, brings with it: the predisposition to other modern addictions, of which the television can play an inductive role (for example, shopping or sex addictions) and the vulnerability to catastrophic news, with a consequential willingness to let oneself be engrossed in collective psychosis, like the fear of contagious diseases or fear of war and imminent catastrophes.

Moving towards television addiction: prevention, limitation and curing television addiction

At this point we can discuss some guidelines which can help to establish a balanced consumption of television programmes and stop or reduce television addiction, especially if the individual is likely to re-enter the risk category, even just temporarily.
These guidelines can also be used to improve television viewing during childhood (so that television does not become what is provocatively called the ‘third parent’), as well as limit the negative effects associated with television abuse, the most common of which is mental passivity, synthetic thought, obesity, the tendency to imitate inappropriate models and phobias of catastrophic events.

Guidelines for preventing or reducing the effects of television addiction:

  • limit the daily amount of television to 2-3 hours. For children, it is important that adults mediate the messages sent out by television;
  • avoid any form of telefixation or abnormal fixation by watching the television with a good position and in well lit places and without doing intellectual activities at the same time;
  • take up hobbies and find time for creative and active activities during the week;
  • maintain social contact;
  • compare televised news with news from other sources so as to approach it logically and have a comprehensive view on global phenomena.

What has been said up to this point allows us to understand how television addiction can represent a temporary phenomenon or simply be the result of bad habits or ways to deal with personal needs.

In some cases it is possible to regulate our habits ourselves so as to get rid of this addiction quickly, leaving time to do other, more creative activities. In other cases, and especially when this addiction is one of many, victims have to go on specific treatment courses which may require them to completely change their habits.

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