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Observations > Changing Your Mental Channel

Television has done much for psychiatry by spreading information about it, as well as contributing to the need for it.-Alfred Hitchcock

It’s been called the “idiot box.” It’s been called “the greatest single invention of the 20th century.” Either way, to say that television is a huge part of daily American life is to state the overwhelmingly obvious. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV.” The effects of sleep on mind and body have been well documented. But what comes of all this “tube time?”

How does television affect the mind? In order to understand how television effects our health, we must first understand how it affects the mind. Several studies have shown that the longer one watches television, the easier it is for their mind to slip into “Alpha state.” Here, the brain’s waves are slow and steady. This hypnotic trace-like state is the brain’s most receptive mode. Images and suggestions have maximum impact in this mode. Why else would advertisers spend up to one billion dollars per year on television advertising? But what about what’s between the commercials?

Does negative television reap negative results? Unfortunately, it can. Since the late 1990s, violence on television has been a hot topic of conversation. Countless acts of violence have been blamed on violence in the media. The shooting at Columbine High School, for example, was widely speculated to be caused in part by repeated viewing of “The Basketball Diaries,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Could this be linked to a core theory of the Law of Attraction, “what you focus on expands?” Although these theories cannot be proven, it has been shown that watching violent television activates the body and mind’s “fight or flight” response. Since the body knows that the threat is not real, it then suppresses the stress. This rotation of impulse and suppression has been linked to feelings of panicked confusion, resulting in actions similar to childhood hyperactivity. And it isn’t just Primetime drama that affects the mind. RAND, a research institute, found that of 560 Americans interviewed, 44% experienced multiple stress symptoms after watching coverage of the 9/11 tragedy on television. Ninety percent experienced at least one symptom! Furthermore, children exposed to the coverage were twice as likely to develop post traumatic stress syndrome, according to Harold S. Kipelwicz, M.D., Director of the NYU Child Study Center. Is there a flipside?

Does humorous television reap positive results? Fortunately, yes! Although the effects of positive effects on television have not been widely reported, the effects of educational programming on children are astounding. According to the Child Health Institute, educational programming “is successful in broadening young children’s knowledge, affecting their racial attitudes and increasing their imaginations.” Do these effects fade with age? Thankfully, new research about the effect of humorous movies seem to disprove this. Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland Medical Center studied the health effects of two movies, quirky comedy Kingpin and war epic Saving Private Ryan. Researchers used ultrasound technology to monitor study subjects’ arterial blood flow. While watching Saving Private Ryan, fourteen out of twenty subjects experienced reduced blood flow on an average of 35%. However, in nineteen out of the twenty subjects who watched the comedy Kingpin, blood flow increased an average of 22%, an amount Miller equated to aerobic exercise! Even more proof that laughter really is the best medicine! Similarly, a study by Lee Berk of Loma Linda University found that even the anticipation of a funny movie raises levels of immune boosters in the blood. According to the study, people waiting to watch a favorite funny movie had 27% more beta-endorphins (a natural pain reducer) and 87% more human growth hormone in their bloodstream than the control group. Berk also found that the actual viewing of one hour of a humorous movie (and its subsequent laughter) reduced the body’s production of stress hormones and enhanced immune response for up to one day.

What is the bottom line for you? Clearly, there is a fine line to be walked. Hours upon hours of television or movie watching of any kind will create the same mind-numbing effects. Moderation is the key! Then, choose wisely. A simple change of the channel can have profound effects on your mind, mood, and health. Next time, when you’re flipping channels, take a minute to remember that “what you focus on expands.” What do you wish to bring into your life? Perhaps the greatest truth about television comes from television itself. According to the hit 1970s comedy Taxi, “The great thing about television is that if something important happens anywhere in the world, day or night, you can always change the channel.” Choose to laugh, you’ll thank yourself for it. Happy viewing!

2008 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted as long as the authors are notified and the following information is included:

Kathleen Passanisi PT, CSP, CPAE is an internationally recognized transformational speaker, therapeutic humor expert, healthcare professional and author. She has spoken to bajillions of people about life balance, wellness, the power of perception, and the link that exists between humor and health. Kathleen is a member of the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame and the funniest woman in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri (and, quite possibly, the Western Hemisphere.) For more information on Kathleen's presentations, books and products please visit the New Perspectives website at www.KathleenPassanisi.com

Annie Passanisi is the daughter of a motivational speaker (see above) who occasionally co-presents with her mother at women’s events. If that does not tell you enough about her, she is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swingset champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.