Watching a lot of television as a kid may lead to violent behavior later in life, according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of Otago.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, identified that children and adolescents who spend an excessive amount of time watching television are more likely to express antisocial behaviors, as well as involve themselves in criminal activity when they are adults.

A total of 1000 children who were born between 1972-73 were included in the study. From the age of 5 to 15 the children were regularly asked – every two years – about the number of hours they spent watching TV.

The results indicate that the more TV children watch the higher the likelihood of them having antisocial personality traits later in life.

The researchers found that for every additional hour that children spent watching TV per week, there was a 30% increase in their risk of being criminally convicted by early adulthood.

In addition, those who watched a lot of TV during childhood showed more aggressive personality traits as adults and were at a higher risk of antisocial personality disorder.

While there have been previous studies that have similarly identified the link between television watching and violent behavior, this study is the first of its kind to actually show a cause-and-effect sequence. It achieved this by asking detailed questions about television watching during youth, and then observing any antisocial behavior that manifests itself during adulthood.

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Does watching too much TV during childhood have negative consequences later on? Possibly.

However, given that this is an observational study, it cannot prove that television watching is the actual cause of violent behavior – it simply shows a cause-and-effect sequence. However, it does provide additional evidence to suggest that there are long-term consequences associated with watching too much TV during childhood.

Associate Professor Hancox, said:

“Antisocial behavior is a major problem for society. While we’re not saying that television causes all antisocial behavior, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society.”

The abstract concludes:

“Excessive television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with increased antisocial behavior in early adulthood. The findings are consistent with a causal association and support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children should watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of television each day.”

The finding highlights the need for parents to control the amount of television their children watch. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents should limit the amount of television their kids watch to no more than 2 hours per day and try and encourage pro-social programs.

Television’s huge impact over children was also explored in another study published in Pediatrics, which revealed that reducing exposure to screen violence among preschool children and substituting it with pro-social programming instead, can actually impact children’s behavior in a positive way.

This suggests that good quality programming – shows that encourage diversity and teach important life lessons – can influence children in a good way and that parents should try and steer their children away from shows that are considered violent.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist