New in the online magazine Behavioral Scientist, as part of a special issue on “Connected State of Mind,” is a piece on “A History of Panic Over Entertainment Technology” by Christopher J. Ferguson and Cathy Faye. As they note,
Since the earliest twentieth century, psychologists have been concerned with how technology affects health and well-being. In the 1930s, they weighed the effects of listening to the radio. In the 1960s, they turned their attention to television. And in more recent years, they have expanded their research to video games and cell phone use. Psychologists have always been vocal on questions about the long-term effects of entertainment technology.
However, both the past and present debates suggest that answering questions about the pros and cons of entertainment technology is complicated. Research findings have been mixed and therefore not easily translatable into policy statements, news headlines, or advice for parents. This was true in 1960 and it is true today.
Take, for example, debates regarding televised violence and childhood aggression. Between 1950 and 1970, televisions became a standard presence in American homes. However, not everyone believed they were a welcome addition. Parents, educators, and politicians questioned what they saw as excess violence and sexuality on TV.
In 1969, the Surgeon General’s Office deemed TV violence a public health problem and called on psychologists to provide definitive evidence on its effects. The million-dollar project was modeled on the well-known Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on health-related risks of tobacco use. It was hoped that evidence from the social and behavioral sciences could similarly close the case on television violence and aggressive behavior.
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