This summary is intended as a supplement for the Comm 80 course. It provides a general overview of the course concepts but omits crucial details discussed in class. You should always attend class, take good notes, and study a variety of sources for maximum learning.
The results were interesting and demonstrate why you need to look at this relationship in a fine-grained way. Consider these four main findings. First, Potter found that type of programming made a difference. With "bad" programs (cartoons, MTV, sports, soap operas, late night TV) there was a small negative effect on achievement as measured by the standardized tests. By contrast with "good" programs (PBS, documentaries, news) there was a small positive effect.
Second, Potter found time displacement effects. He divided the students into three samples depending upon the amount of total time per week watching TV: Low (0-10hrs), Moderate (10-30hrs), and High (30+hrs). Within the Low and Moderate groups, Potter found a small positive effect for TV. However, within the High exposure group, there was a negative effect for TV. The following table illustrates this finding.
|Low Exp (0-10 hr/wk)||Mod Exp (10-30hrs/wk)||High Exp (30 plus hrs/wk)|
more TV better Ach
more TV better Ach
more TV worse Ach
Fourth, Potter reported the average effect in an Effect Size Window (check you workbook here). He found a small effect (45/55, right?) such that more total time with TV was associated with worse achievement. Now, most of what Potter found tends to demonstrate a negative effect, but there's a logical problem here. Because of the survey methodology, we do not have "causal" data. The data here are correlational and support both of the following statements. One, students who watch more TV (and more "bad" TV) do worse in school. Two, students who do poorly in school watch more TV. Do you see the problem? We're stuck with the dilemma of which came first, the chicken or the egg? To solve this problem and determine whether watching more TV can cause worse achievement, we need an experiment.
Here's what Williams did. She found two other nearby communities that were very similar to the TV-less town and decided to use them as control. She called the first community, Notel, and the two other control communities, Unitel and Multitel. (Now why did she use those names?) The communities had small populations of roughly 600-700 residents that were just typical small towns with schools, churches, and Little League. Just that one crucial difference concerning TV.
Williams then created a nice design. She decided to track these three towns over time. She and her research team visited each town three times --- in 1973, 1975, and 1977. Now, in 1973, Notel still did not have TV, but later that year cable arrived and so did television. So, Notel starts without TV, then for 1975 and 1977, television is part of the community. And, of course, TV was always available in Unitel and Multitel. Here's the design:
Okay, get the big picture. Three towns, two always have TV, while one starts without TV, but then gets it. Three different indicators of learning are measured during three different measurement periods. We can make two interesting comparisons here. First, compare Notel to the other communities at any one time. (Is Notel different from the others at baseline in 1973 before they get TV?) Second, compare Notel to itself over time. (Is Notel different in 1973 before TV compared to Notel in 1975 after TV?)
What happened? Two main points. First, Unitel and Multitel, our two control towns, showed identical scores during all three measurement periods, so to simplify reporting we'll collapse those two groups into one and call the new group, Alltel. Second, the general pattern of results for all three achievement variables (reading, creativity, and problem-solving) were very similar: Notel before TV (1973) started with better scores compared to Alltell, but by the end of the experiment, Notel got worse until its performance was identical to Alltel. (See the following Figure.)
The effect sizes varied with the three different measures, ranging from large effects for reading to small effects for problem solving. But, again, the pattern was always the same: Notel started off better, but gave away that superior performance after TV came to town.
Blake conceptualized the problem this way. When you try to study with TV you are doing two things simultaneously. This is called "dual task processing" for obvious reasons. When you engage in dual task processing the two tasks could help each other (facilitation), could disrupt each other (interference), or be independent of each other (no effect). Okay, when you study with TV what happens? Blake solicited college adults at Michigan State to participate in an experiment. (This was his dissertation research at MSU.) If you had been a volunteer, here's what would have happened. You would have shown up at the Comm Studies Lab and been taken to a room that looked a lot like an apartment. It had a sofa, chairs, a table, and, over there, a TV. You'd sit down and Blake would tell you, "Here's the deal, I'm gonna you some tests and I want you to do the best you can on them." The tests measured these tasks: short term memory, problem solving, creativity, and reading comprehension. No big deal, the kind of stuff you've been doing in school all your life.
Now here's where Blake makes the experiment happen (or manipulates the independent variable in more technical terms). Blake randomly assigns you to one of three conditions while you complete the tests. The control group just takes the tests, "Thank you, here's your class credit, now go home." The Ignore TV group is told to complete the tests while the TV set is turned on, but to ignore the program and focus on the test. (Blake later gives these people a pop quiz on the program and, not too surprisingly, finds that they really didn't watch the show.) The third group, called Dual Task, takes the tests and is also told to watch the TV program and monitor it. (Blake gives a pop quiz to these folks to and they score much higher on it than the Ignore TV group.)
You can probably guess the outcomes. It is a nice little step ladder effect. First, the Dual Task group does the worst on the test. Next, the Ignore TV group does better (moderate effect) than the Dual Task group. Finally the control group does the best of all three (large effect versus Dual Task, moderate effect versus Ignore TV). So when we engage in that dual processing task (studying with TV) there is no facilitation effect, only interference as the two tasks disrupt each other.
Three factors contribute to this general negative effect. First, media use displaces study and practice time. Obviously every minute you give to TV is a minute taken away from something else. Second, TV use creates information overload in study settings. You simply cannot focus on TV and learning at the same time. And finally, it is also apparent that TV requires a different set of skills compared to academic skills. In other words the skills you need to be a good TV watcher are not the same skills you need to excel as a student.