Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dumb TV Shows Make You Dumber?

Without a reporter looking to interview someone about this research I would have missed it.  The study's main point? Watching dumb TV, wait for it, makes you dumber.  Shocked?

A story about the study is here.  And the journalism guy in me admires this lede:
Take note, fans of mindless reality shows like "Jersey Shore": New research suggests watching something dumb might make you dumber. In other words, you are what you watch.

That last line, for a lot of folks ... ouch.  This is basically a priming experiment, at least as described in the news story.  I'm having a hard time finding the actual study in Media Psychology, but as it's described subjects were randomly assigned to a control group or two conditions and read a script (important methodological note -- read, not watched) and then answered some political knowledge questions.  Those who read the "dumb" script, and you can read the story yourself for details, did less well on the political knowledge test. 

Priming is the theoretical underpinning here, and I can buy that.  It's not that people were made dumb by the script so much as they were primed to approach a test in a dumb frame of mind, to slip into a mode in which serious thought is set aside.  Reading a dumb script, and we can assume watching a dumb show, somehow slips our mind into neutral and deeper thought gets shoved aside.  This is not unlike watching a smart program or listening to classical music and then perhaps doing better on a test not associated with either.

Keep in mind, though, that priming effects are short-lived, or as we say in social science, the effect quickly erodes over time.  So you'd need a constant Jersey Shore fix to keep that dumb frame of mind going strong.  Then again, anyone who watches that program in the first place probably already qualifies as not exactly a rocket scientist.

A reporter from Atlanta may call me to discuss this, which will be kinda fun if it happens.  How often do you get the chance to make fun of Jersey Shore?  Not enough, that's my position.

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