An investigation of the effects of background television on attention, performance, learning and executive functioning in preschoolers

Frizzell, Lynn Marie (2019) An investigation of the effects of background television on attention, performance, learning and executive functioning in preschoolers. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Given the omnipresence of television in children’s lives, it is important to know what effect it may have on attention, executive functioning (EF) and learning. This study investigated effects of background television (BTV) on attention to, and memory for, storybook details, a puzzle strategy, and performance on an EF task in 108 preschoolers during an adult-child interaction. Parents reported children’s BTV exposure and screen media use and rated their everyday EF. Results showed BTV reduced attention to all tasks but only on more challenging tasks was performance also affected. BTV interfered with encoding such that delayed but not immediate story recall was diminished. On the easier puzzle task, scores were equal across BTV conditions. On the EF task, children were slower, more variable, less accurate and less able to detect errors with BTV present. Very few children learned any BTV programming content, and nothing without performance cost. These results align with a limited capacity theory of attention and EF, and suggest that children can maintain performance when task demands and distractor salience combined do not overtax cognitive resources. Children with higher EF managed BTV better, though they too scored lower in its presence, suggesting EF becomes depleted when taxed. Parent reports revealed clusters of factors that correlated with EF. Specifically, in homes where BTV was more frequently on, children also watched more TV, used more devices and more often had a bedroom TV. These children were also judged by their parents as less distracted by BTV, even though they had lower EF according to task scores and parents’ own ratings on a standardized measure. BTV practices may reflect parenting styles. Parents who limit BTV may provide more of the kind of structure, such as rules and routines, that scaffolds EF development and the transition from other- to self-regulated. BTV interfered with stable, sustained, focused and shared attention on the kinds of tasks that require the most attention and effort and thus are most likely to drive cognitive development. Shared viewing of high quality children’s programming can be a part of the optimal caregiving environment, but BTV should not be.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 13959
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 127-161).
Keywords: background television, attention, executive function, preschool aged children, distraction, learning, flanker task
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: October 2019
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Television and children--Psychological aspects; Developmental psychology; Attention; Distraction (Psychology)

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