There are a lot of negative stereotypes attached to individuals who spend most of the day in front of the TV to marathon a favorite show or invest time in a video game world. Most of us don’t even bother to question how different the stereotypes are for those who prefer to spend their time reading books. After all, you’re exercising your brain by reading — how can that be unhealthy? But then again, what’s the difference? Surely there is value in shows or games as well.
Well, let’s take a look at what the science tells us.
First of all, you won’t like it. Many studies show that our stereotypes are sensible. For example, studies have indicated that people are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s when they grow old if they watch a lot of TV, while they are less likely to suffer from the same disease if they read. In fact, reading is presented as a way to prevent such a decline in faculties.
The story is even more profound for children. Tohoku University in Japan conducted research in 2013 that showed a proportional incline in arousal and aggression for those who watched certain amounts of television. On top of that, test results in certain categories — like social interaction — were lowered for those who spent too much time watching the tube.
Another study found a link between the amount of TV watched and child-parent relationships when communication is taken into account. Parents are more likely to communicate or teach when reading with their children than they are when watching TV together — even when the television program is educational.
This suggests that the information inherent in either medium isn’t causing the disparities, but instead that the medium itself is responsible. Mostly we can only conjecture about why this is the case, but some researchers believe it might have something to do with how the information is presented. TV programming is fast-paced, while the books are a slow-burn form of entertainment.
On the other hand, it could simply be a matter of how we as a society are taught to interact during these forms of entertainment when growing up. For example, TV programming has never been about a social experience.College students have been shown to benefit significantly if they routinely read. Emory University’s Gregory Burns showed a connection between reading and parts of the brain related to language and empathy. Other research has suggested that reading can reduce stress more than any other activity.