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Third-party-funded project

The impact of television on the development of language and reading

Project management at the University of Würzburg:

Participating scientists:

A 6-year-longitudinal study has been carried out to assess effects of TV consumption on the development of language and reading skills in a sample of 332 elementary school children stemming from two different age cohorts. At the beginning of the study in summer 1998, children in the younger cohort were about six years of age, and those of the older cohort were on average about two years older. Television and leisure time acivities were recorded by several one-week diaries. Children were regularly tested and interviewed in their kindergarten or school. Parents provided additional information about children?s media use and their home environment.

A major interest of the study concerned the investigation of several hypothesis on the causal mechanisms that underlie the television effect. The popular displacement hypothesis, for example, argues that television inhibits improvement in reading skills by displacing time children would otherwise spend on leisure time reading. Further hypotheses are the reading-depreciation hypothesis and the concentration-deterioration hypothesis. Contrary to those assumptions the facilitation hypothesis focuses on positive effects of educational programs (i.e. Sesame Street). Another important question adressed the validity of IQ- and SES-mainstreaming hypotheses which assume compensatory effects of extensive TV consumption for children with lower intellectual abilities and socioeconomic status, respectively.

Our results confirm that heavy viewing is related to poorer language and reading skills. This effect is limited to the consumption of entertainment programs whereas educational programs turned out to exert a slightly positive influence on later language and reading abilities.

Television as a preschool predictor of school achievement: A structural equation model was specified to determine the role of television as a preschool predictor for reading and spelling abilities at the end of third grade. Although cognitive predictors (i.e. intelligence, phonological awareness, working memory) and socioeconomic status were included in the model, the amount of daily television in preschool years had a unique negative effect on later reading and spelling abilities. Again, educational programs had a small but positive influence.

With respect to the displacement hypothesis we found a very small indirect effect on later leisure time reading in the younger cohort: Children who spent more time with TV were less engaged in parent-child reading. Parent-child reading then, proved to be positively related to leisure time reading in the early school grades. Contrary to our expectations latent growth curve analysis indicated that increase in children?s leisure reading seemed to depend on previous reading abilities and not vice versa.

SES-Mainstreaming: Potential effects of socioeconomic status on the relationship between TV and school achievement were analysed. Heavy, medium and light viewers were compared with regard to developmental changes in language and reading skills, using SES as a moderator variable. Significant interactions between TV consumption and SES were found. That is, language and reading development of high-SES heavy viewers seemed disproportionally delayed, as compared to the development of heavy viewers from other SES levels. Thus the mainstreaming hypothesis which assumes that heavy TV consumption reduces performance differences between low- and high-SES children was only partially confirmed by our data.

IQ-Mainstreaming: We found no compensatory effects of extensive TV consumption for children with lower intellectual abilities. In the younger cohort, negative effects of heavy TV consumption were particularly evident for low-IQ children. Contrary to our expectations low-IQ children seemed to be even more affected by heavy viewing than their more intelligent peers.

Although there is some evidence for a causal relationship between television and achievement the underlying mechanism of the television effect remains unclear. Our results suggest that the hypotheses mentioned earlier are not suited to explain how television affects language and reading abilities. Although we tried to control for many relevant variables including socioeconmic status we can not rule out that other variables (i.e. educational ressources, learning environment) can account for the relation between television and achievement. Further family background characteristics were included in our recent data collections in order to go further into that question.

Key words:
    reading achievement
    language development

Projekt period: from 05.1998 to 04.2004

Funding institution:
DFG ,Granting date: 02.04.1998