Tohoku University study: Excessive television watching changes children’s brain structure

12 Jan

Moi wrote about the effect on television on children in Television cannot substitute for quality childcare:
Your toddler not only needs food for their body and appropriate physical activity, but you need to nourish their mind and spirit as well.
There are several good articles which explain why you do not want your toddler parked in front of a television several hours each day. Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE has a very good explanation of how television can be used as a resource by distinguishing between television watching and targeting viewing of specific programs designed to enhance learning. In Should Babies and Toddlers Watch Television? Elizabeth Pantley comments about the effects of young children and television. MSNBC was reporting about toddlers and television in 2004.

In the MSNBC report, Watching TV May Hurt Toddlers’ Attention Spans the following comments were made:

Researchers have found that every hour preschoolers watch television each day boosts their chances — by about 10 percent — of developing attention deficit problems later in life.
The findings back up previous research showing that television can shorten attention spans and support American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that youngsters under age 2 not watch television.
“The truth is there are lots of reasons for children not to watch television. Other studies have shown it to be associated with obesity and aggressiveness” too, said lead author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

The issue is whether prolonged television watching affects a child’s brain development.

Nancy Shute is reports in the US News article, TV Watching Is Bad for Babies’ Brains

Babies who watch TV are more likely to have delayed cognitive development and language at 14 months, especially if they’re watching programs intended for adults and older children. We probably knew that 24 and Grey’s Anatomy don’t really qualify as educational content, but it’s surprising that TV-watching made a difference at such a tender age.
Babies who watched 60 minutes of TV daily had developmental scores one-third lower at 14 months than babies who weren’t watching that much TV. Though their developmental scores were still in the normal range, the discrepancy may be due to the fact that when kids and parents are watching TV, they’re missing out on talking, playing, and interactions that are essential to learning and development.
This new study, which appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, followed 259 lower-income families in New York, most of whom spoke Spanish as their primary language at home. Other studies examining higher-income families have also come to the same conclusion: TV watching not only isn’t educational, but it seems to stunt babies’ development.

Background television is also not good for the development of a child. Television in the background can be harmful for kids. Alexandra Sifferlin writes in the Time article, TV On in the Background? It’s Still Bad for Kids.

Robin Yapp of the Daily Mail reported in the article, Children who watch too much TV may have ‘damaged brain structures’:

Watching too much television can change the structure of a child’s brain in a damaging way, according to a new study.
Researchers found that the more time a child spent viewing TV, the more profound the brain alterations appeared to be.
The Japanese study looked at 276 children aged between five and 18, who watched between zero and four hours TV per day, with the average being about two hours.
MRI brain scans showed children who spent the most hours in front of the box had greater amounts of grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex – the area at the front of the frontal lobe.
But this increased volume was a negative thing as it was linked with lower verbal intelligence, said the authors, from Tohoku University in the city of Sendai.
They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently.
‘These areas show developmental cortical thinning during development, and children with superior IQs show the most vigorous cortical thinning in this area,’ the team wrote.
They highlighted the fact that unlike learning a musical instrument, for example, programmes we watch on TV ‘do not necessarily advance to a higher level, speed up or vary’.
‘When this type of increase in level of experience does not occur with increasing experience, there is less of an effect on cognitive functioning,’ they wrote.
Children who watch the most TV have the most profound changes to their brain structure
The authors said the impact of watching TV on the ‘structural development’ of the brain has never before been investigated.
‘In conclusion, TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive


1. Cereb. Cortex (2013) doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht315 First published online: November 20, 2013
The Impact of Television Viewing on Brain Structures: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analyses
1. Hikaru Takeuchi1⇑,
2. Yasuyuki Taki1,2,3,
3. Hiroshi Hashizume1,
4. Kohei Asano1,
5. Michiko Asano1,
6. Yuko Sassa1,
7. Susumu Yokota4,
8. Yuka Kotozaki5,
9. Rui Nouchi6 and
10. Ryuta Kawashima2,4,7
+ Author Affiliations
1. 1Division of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer
2. 2Division of Medical Neuroimaging Analysis, Department of Community Medical Supports, Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization
3. 3Department of Nuclear Medicine & Radiology, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer
4. 4Graduate School of Education
5. 5Smart Ageing International Research Centre, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer
6. 6Human and Social Response Research Division, International Research Institute of Disaster Science
7. 7Department of Functional Brain Imaging, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan
1. Address correspondence to Hikaru Takeuchi, Division of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, IDAC, Tohoku University, 4-1 Seiryo-cho, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8575, Japan. Email:
Television (TV) viewing is known to affect children’s verbal abilities and other physical, cognitive, and emotional development in psychological studies. However, the brain structural development associated with TV viewing has never been investigated. Here we examined cross-sectional correlations between the duration of TV viewing and regional gray/white matter volume (rGMV/rWMV) among 133 boys and 143 girls as well as correlations between the duration of TV viewing and longitudinal changes that occurred a few years later among 111 boys and 105 girls. After correcting for confounding factors, we found positive effects of TV viewing on rGMV of the frontopolar and medial prefrontal areas in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, positive effects of TV viewing on rGMV/rWMV of areas of the visual cortex in cross-sectional analyses, and positive effects of TV viewing on rGMV of the hypothalamus/septum and sensorimotor areas in longitudinal analyses. We also confirmed negative effects of TV viewing on verbal intelligence quotient (IQ) in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. These anatomical correlates may be linked to previously known effects of TV viewing on verbal competence, aggression, and physical activity. In particular, the present results showed effects of TV viewing on the frontopolar area of the brain, which has been associated with intellectual abilities.
Key words
• children
• gray matter volume
• television
• verbal
• white matter volume
• © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail:

Here is the press release from the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University:

2013 | Press Release
Long term television viewing has a negative impact on higher cognitive brain functions such as developmental changes and verbal abilities in children: Caution should be exercised on extended TV viewing for developing children
2013.11.21 | Press Release , Achievement and Award , Achievements
Professor Ryuta Kawashima of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience sponsored by Kumon Educational Japan Co., Ltd. at the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University has clarified the development of brain anatomy, cerebral blood flow, and cerebral brain function in healthy children and is currently investigating how lifestyle habits affects the development of cognitive abilities and brain functions using brain function imaging devices such as MRI.
A research group headed by Associate Professor Hikaru Takeuchi and Professor Ryuta Kawashima using longitudinal follow-up data in children analyzed if TV viewing habits is associated with change over the years in verbal abilities and brain anatomy. It was discovered that watching TV over an extended period of time has a negative impact on areas of higher-order cognitive functions that includes the frontal pole of the brain. The findings suggest caution should be exercised on long time TV viewing in developing children.
Through brain image analysis, large scale data, and longitudinal data accumulated over the years and discovering the negative effects of viewing TV in children that adversely affects neural mechanisms such as verbal abilities, this innovative research was selected in the British scientific neuroscience journal Cerebral Cortex.
More information (Japanese)
Associate Professor Hikaru Takeuchi
Division of Cognitive Neuroscience
Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University
TEL: +81-22-717-8457
E-mail: takehi* (Replace * with @)
If watching television is not an appropriate activity for toddlers, then what are appropriate activities? Family Education has a list of Developmental Activities by Age

See, How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby

Parents must interact with their children and read to them. Television is not a parental substitute.
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One Response to “Tohoku University study: Excessive television watching changes children’s brain structure”


  1. Parent homework: Critical television watching with your children | drwilda - January 28, 2014

    […] Tohoku University study: Excessive television watching changes children’s brain structure… […]

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