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The Influence of Television Pacing on Attention and Executive Functioning


The Influence of Television Pacing on Attention and Executive Functioning

Timothy LaVigne, BA - – 617-633-5584

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorder (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011), children watch 4.5 hours of television per day (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010), and there is a negative association between increased television exposure and attentional abilities (Christakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, & McCarty, 2004; Landhuis, Poulton, Welch, & Hancox, 2007). There are several theories as to how television may impact attention, one of which is the pace of programming (Nikkelen, Valkenburg, Huizinga, & Bushman, 2014). The overarching hypothesis in the few studies which have examined pace has been that faster pace would be associated with decreased attentional and executive functioning abilities (Cooper, Uller, Pettifer, & Stolc, 2009; Lillard & Peterson, 2011). However, the handful of studies examining this link suffer from flaws such as utilizing videos unlike content actually watched (Anderson, Levin, & Lorch, 1977; Cooper et al., 2009), or comparing fast and slow paced shows which also contain different characters, plots, voices, sounds, and images (Lillard & Peterson, 2011). Further, all existing studies have used only “normal” samples of children. The current study is the first to recruit children with ADHD.

Proposed Study. The current study focuses on manipulating the pace of a single in-house created animated video designed for middle-childhood aged participants, while controlling for the overall amount of media consumption and individual child characteristics (age, gender, comorbid psychopathology, and IQ). Thus, we will be able to isolate pace as the only variable which is different between our two groups, while utilizing media that is similar to that which is normally watched by children (Gunter & McAleer, 1997). We hypothesize that relative to the fast pace video, children will perform better on measures of attention and executive functioning after watching the slower pace video, and that children with ADHD will perform more poorly in comparison to typically developing children on these measures after viewing either video. In addition, an interaction of group (typically developing children vs. children with ADHD) by pace (slow vs. fast) is expected, such that the performance of children with ADHD will be relatively worse than that of typically developing children in the fast, relative to the slow, pace video.

Participants and Procedure. The sample will consist of 48 6-14 year-old children, 24 with ADHD (six or more symptoms on either or both subscales of the ADHD Rating Scale) and 24 control children (three or fewer symptoms on either subscale) and one of their primary caregivers. Parents complete reports about their children’s behaviors and psychological adjustment, and children will watch two versions of a cartoon (fast pace and slow pace) and complete attentional and executive functioning tasks (Stop Signal Task and Attentional Network Test) after each viewing. All children will watch the fast and slow edits of the cartoon, with half of the sample in the ADHD group and half the sample in the control group watching the fast-pace edit first, and the other halves watching the slow-pace edit first, with the post-measures also counterbalanced.

Potential Implications. Parents are often told that their children should not watch certain types of television (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999), but it is difficult to understand which media should be avoided. If a connection between pace of programming and attention or executive function is found, parents will be able to better plan when children participate in activities that require attention (such as completing homework), health care providers will be able to give specific advice regarding which shows to avoid, and the media industry may even be able to create content which is less harmful for children. The current study hopes to expand existing findings by utilizing media which is much more similar to

Date after which new study participants will no longer be accepted: May 1, 2017

Timothy LaVigne
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405
Phone: (617) 633-5584