One and a half years ago, I blogged about a working paper by Simen Markussen, Knut Røed and myself showing that access to commercial television channels during childhood and adolescence reduced cognitive ability scores and high school graduation rates of Norwegian men. Now, a substantially revised version is forthcoming in The Journal of Human Resources. (Preprint here.) The effects appear to be driven by consumption of light television entertainment crowding out more cognitively stimulating activities.
That is the title of a just released working paper by Simen Markussen, Knut Røed, and myself. We show that access to commercial television channels during childhood and adolescence from the 1980’s onwards in Norway reduced cognitive ability scores and high school graduation rates of young men.
I have always liked time use surveys and would love to use them more, for example to write posts like this one at Vox. Now I have recently begun working a little with some such Norwegian surveys, so here is a little about recent developments in how young Norwegians spend their leisure time.
(Apologies for the unsatisfying look of some of the graphs, they are simply lifted from an online resource.)
In short, since 1970 fewer of us are reading an average day (turquoise), while more area watching television (light blue), and recently using internet (included in “Other” (dark brown)).
Is that a bad thing? Well, that depends, but if it is passive television entertainment that crowds out reading, I would not be surprised if that had some long term consequences.
From Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker, I learn that the famous story of how 38 people witnessed the brutal rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964 but failed to do anything for half an hour, was basically fabricated by the New York Times under editor A. M. Rosenthal.
The story was recounted uncritically as an example of how the presence of many bystanders can lead to a diffusion of responsibility in such a way that everyone fails to act in my introductory psychology textbook from a few years back. In reality, there were only one or two people who unambiguously witnessed the attack without doing anything about it, and two who did intervene. This was also known at the time.
The true story is less spectacular and would probably not have had the good consequences of the fabricated one, but this could not be known at the time, as mentioned in the article. More importantly, however, the real cost of fabricating good stories like this is that when the truth comes out, it diminishes confidence in all else that is written as well.
H/t: Andrew Gelman