Depression and TV: Cause or Effect?

by Hal Landen

In a new study, University of Maryland sociologists John P. Robinson and Steven Martin sought to discover what activities contribute most to a happy life. The study appeared in the December, 2008 issue of the journal Social Indicators Research. Their study of nearly 30,000 adults was conducted between 1975 and 2006.

It found that unhappy people watch television 30% more than happy people. Happy people watch an average of 19 hours a week, but unhappy people watch 25 hours a week. These findings were adjusted to account for differences in age, education, income, and marital status.


In addition to watching less television, happy people were found to:

* be more socially active

* attend more religious services

* vote more often

* read a newspaper more often

But television clearly has some positives. Previous studies have shown that people like watching. On a scale of 0 – 10, the average was almost an 8.

The big question is is television a cause or an effect of unhappiness? According to researcher John Robinson, “These conflicting data suggest that TV may provide viewers with short-run pleasure, but at the expense of long-term malaise.” It seems that over time, television viewing can take away from other activities that seem to have more benefits. Some of those activities include exercise, parties and other forms of socializing as well as sex.

Perhaps television attracts those who are unhappy. People who are already depressed or have fewer options may watch more television simply because it requires no effort whatsoever. Could TV be both a cause and an effect of depression?

While the scientific data cannot yet clearly state whether TV is a cause or effect of unhappiness, it seems clear to me that all of us would benefit from less television. So turn the TV off, go the library or a social group, call a friend, take a walk, do some exercise. Find something fun to do. Just thinking about what would be fun or satisfying in itself is a step in the right direction. Change your life for the better.

I love television and have worked in the television business most of my adult life. BUT. It has gone far too far. How many restaurants and pizza parlors, doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, hair salons, and other public places have televisions running all the time? Tell ’em (in a nice way) to turn it off. Print out this article and give them a copy.


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