Reading books improve your brain, watching movies/TV shows rots it?

I’m sure everyone has seen this “gem” of wisdom over the years from all sorts of places, TV and films no matter how thought provoking or engaging rot your brain and books no matter how badly written or banal the plot help your brain.:dubious:

Is there anything to suuport the notion that there is magic in the written word? It seems like badly written cliche ridden pulp or romance novels with not a single element you need to puzzle over or think about aren’t going to do much to stimulate you mentally.

Sure watching low quality sitcoms or Jerry Springer type shows are not going to do much to stimulate you mentally, but it seems a TV show or film with an intricate thought provoking plot and ambiguous message would stimulate you mentally and be the source of thought and discussion.

Seems like the magic element here is getting your mind cranking, whether its trying to piece together plot elements from earlier in the narrative or puzzling over a morally ambiguous element. I’m curious if there is any research that says visual media is inherently inferior to the written word.(there also seems to be a prejudice against reading on a PC or other electronic device over reading off dead trees:smack:)

I don’t know if you’ve ever read “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” by Jerry Mander (yes, that’s his real name). Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television argues that the technology of television is not a neutral or benign instrument or tool. The author argues that in varied technologies and institutions such as militaries, automobiles, nuclear power plants, mass production, and advertising, the basic form of the institution and the technology determines its interaction with the world, the way it will be used, the kind of people who use it, and to what ends.

The author argues that far from being “neutral,” television predetermines who shall use it, how they will use it, what effects it will have on individual lives, and, if it continues to be widely used, what sorts of political forms will inevitably emerge.

The four arguments are:

While television may seem useful, interesting, and worthwhile, at the same time it further boxes people into a physical and mental condition appropriate for the emergence of autocratic control.
It is inevitable that the present powers-that-be (or controllers) use and expand using television so that no other controllers are permitted.
Television affects individual human bodies and minds in a manner which fit the purposes of the people who control the medium.
Television has no democratic potential. The technology itself places absolute limits on what may pass through it. The medium, in effect, chooses its own content from a very narrow field of possibilities. The effect is to drastically confine all human understanding within a rigid channel.

What binds the four arguments together is that they deal with aspects of television that are not reformable.

The internet (as a companion/converging medium) is proving that false, however.

These arguments, however, seem to be aimed at the pre-cable, pre-DVD/VCR world of broadcast TV. Back in the day when 3 networks and their current schedule defined your choices, this would have been the case. (Remember when? Most people are too young…)

the emergence of video on demand, video from the intnernet, and saved content (i.e. DVD and Blu-Ray) means that the TV no longer dictates content to you. When you can buy BBC seres, Andy Griffith Season 1, or IMAX documentaries to watch, you are no longer being dictated to.

The second point is foo now that the internet is pretty much overtaking TV as the medium of choice for younger viewers.

The fourth point is also foo, with YouTube and other media making it possible to “broadcast” anytihng, including subversive content. The amount of varied views on cable, and their accessibility with VCRs or downloads, makes the point 180 degrees dfferent now.

The third point is the one I most often hear - print and audio-visual are very different. Print exercises the mind, since you make up the word described in your imagination; print exercises the imagination like movies or TV cannot. Whatever for example the author intended we probably imagine a completely different world than what turned out in the movie version. the same used to be said of comic books, back when they were for kids. They did not teach reading, since you could follow the story from the pcitures. They did not encourage the imagination.

However, I think this can be varied. Good movies and shows can be incredibly detailed and it is possible to have very provocative and though-inducing shows. Books can be trite potboilers that recycle cliches, too.

The problem is, current content especially on TV channels (as opposed to video / movies) is a race to the bottom. Whether it’s news shows, entertainment, or other content - it’s cheaper to go with the trite and simplistic. A book is typically something put together by an author who spends months or years putting together a cohesive narrative that fits their vision; if it fits the vision of others too, it sells. The majority of TV is, as Jon Stewart described political debate on TV, “the equivalent of Tv wresting”. Plotline, characters, and issues are usuallys implistic because that’s what you get cranking out a show a week. Shows are more a commitee output than an artist’s vision.

So TV and comics are not guaranteed to rot your brain, but most will.

This article is seven years old but it (and the book upon which it’s based) argues that rather than rotting your brain, watching TV actually makes you smarter. The article says, “To make sense of an episode of ‘24,’ you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ‘24,’ you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships.”

I’m not so sure I’ve seen that “gem,” in the extreme version you present it here. If it’s so prevalent, perhaps you could give a cite?

One argument is that reading is active, while TV-watching is passive. There may be something to that, though with TV-viewing or with reading, some takes more effort and attention than others. But I do know that there are times I feel too tired to read but not too tired to watch TV, which suggests to me that reading engages the brain in a way or to a degree that TV-viewing doesn’t. Certainly reading engages parts of the mind that viewing doesn’t (and vice-versa, I suppose), and there are things that you can get from the written word that you can’t really get from a visual medium (and again, vice-versa).

Some of the “TV rots the brain” admonishments seem to be aimed specifically at children, or even infants. There’s a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 shouldn’t watch any TV at all. That cite’s pretty reliable and well-attested; I also found less-reliable, but not totally unbelievable, cites claiming things like toddlers who watch a lot of TV have a higher risk of developing ADHD.

You saw similar complaints when movies first came along. They supposedly aroused the “animal instincts” of viewers. Similarly, Fredric Wertham warned that reading crime comic books would make children incapable of appreciating good literature.

The internet also is slowly being fenced and corralled and brought under control.

The bottom line for me is that reading is a more active process. Nobody gets excited about words on a page for their own sake - if we did, phone books would have as much appeal as novels. The words have to be interpreted to make sense, and that interpretation means that my image of a scene or character is going to differ from your image - often dramatically so. If a book says a character goes into a bathroom, my image is different from yours; then we both adjust our image if new information is provided by the book. In a way, we’re co-creators with the authors.

I won’t argue that TV is universally bad. There is some thinking involved in some shows. However, we aren’t co-creators. When a character walks into a bathroom, you see exactly what I do. At best, we’re critics and detectives and those are things we can also be while reading.

Individuals reading books and watching TV learn different things. Even if the story is the same, the process is different, and the content is different. You can’t learn to read facial expressions or body language from reading a book - you can’t learn to spell from a TV show. *

Overall it depends what you’re trying to learn, what medium is best appropriate. I don’t think anything like that “rots” your brain, but reading does help academic skills (no matter what you read) more, and helps attention building where TV watching hinders it. (as previously mentioned)
*exceptions exist, tv shows specifically about spelling or books that describe cues of body language, but you can learn spelling from a book about something entirely different, or about body language and tone of voice from a TV show about nothing related to that.

Doesn’t matter - the statement that TV is ‘not reformable’ is absurd, unless it is somehow universal to all human communication, in which case, it would not be notable to say it about TV.

Anyway, those fences aren’t by any means guaranteed to succeed in corralling or controling the internet.

Everyone knows novels rot your brain. Just read this testimonial:

Reading will make your brains pour out your ears, kid.

The Onion: Watching Episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ Counts As Reading Book

The version I have seen (which appears quite commonly repeated, but curiously, not anywhere I’d really trust as a source) goes something like: When you watch television, your brain is less active than when you sit and stare at a blank wall.

The human brain is not designed for writing. That’s why it took so long to invent. The only reason it became useful is because it was technologically easy compared to TV. You pretty much had to communicate this way over long distances and times.

This, to me, has always been evidence that the written word is inferior audio-visual communication. That’s what we’re designed to understand. Looking at human faces and interpreting speech is so easy for humans that we learn it more than twice as fast as writing and reading. I think this attitude that books are great and TV is bad is a hold-over from the days when any intelligent person got that way from reading while the unlearned spent their leisure time doing something else.

Now that that’s no longer true, I see no reason to cling to the idea that going against the mental grain is the superior way to learn.

What I’ve heard is that reading is a more cognitively intense activity since you have to convert text to mental images in your head. Compared to television where you passively receive images and sounds. I don’t have any studies though.

Both are pretty sedentary activities though.

Visual communication may be more efficient than writing, but the point in question here is whether it’s more or less stimulating to the mind - that which is easier for us in the short is not always beneficial to us in the longer term.

You can read and write faster than you can talk and listen. If I want to tell you everything you need to know to do X, we would both be better off if I sat down and typed it out for you to read.

Television is very, very good for the mind- especially if watched on an old CRT. It is for this reason that television is known as the “boob tube” or “glass teat”. You should spend as much time as possible in the glowing warmth of television’s warming glow.
God is in the machine!

That statement is quite amenable to experiment using an MRI. If no one’s done it, perhaps you could write up a grant proposal…