TEXT   |   Mind and Media:

The Effects of Television, Video Games, and Computers

Greenfield, Patricia Marks.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

The Developing Child Series

Recent decades have witnessed unprecedented advances in research on human development. Each book in The Developing Child series reflects the importance of this research as a resource for enhancing children’s well-being. It is the purpose of the series to make this resource available to that increasing large number of people who are responsible for raising a new generation. We hope that these books will provide rich and useful information for parents, educators, child-care professionals, students of developmental psychology, and all others concerned with childhood.

The Electronic Media

In Marshall McLuhan’s, “The Medium is the Message”, his idea was that each medium of communication produces social and psychological effects on its audience, social relations, and ways of thinking that are independent of the content being transmitted. All types of media have their points of strength and weakness. Therefore, media are complementary and are not in opposition to one another.

Film and Television Literacy

The media of film and television present information in an audiovisual format. The techniques of image production, such as montage, cutting, fading, zoom, etc., have a way of representing time and space in multiple ways that can often be difficult for children to understand depending on their age and cognitive development. The audiovisual format of presentation also has the ability to convey multiple pieces of information at once through sound and image at a rapid pace. This quality film and television is something that print media lacks. The exposure to audiovisual media can cultivate better parallel processing (multiple, simultaneous information) in children, compared to those not exposed to this type of media who are better at serial processing (one item at a time).

Television and Learning

Children develop visual skills before they develop language skills. Therefore, making the medium of television more familiar to children than print and audio media. Also, the motion of the image keeps children’s attention better than just audio programs. Although, the weakness of television is in the ability for the medium to render the viewer passive and the constant stimulus of image does not allow the viewer an opportunity for reflection and use of their imagination.

Image : Sesame Street, Count von Count with the number 1.

Television and Social Reality

The power of the image can have great influence over the viewer’s perceptions. The representations of gender stereotypes and minorities on television can influence beliefs, especially when these representations are reinforced through multiple viewings. The image can even have great influence after a single viewing, such films as The Birth of a Nation altered racial attitudes. Although, the influence of the image can be defended against if children have the proper literacy in how to be critical of television.

Using Television to Overcome Educational Disadvantage

The medium of television is appropriate for education in its ability to reach a mass audience and its availability in the home. These traits of television assist the educationally disadvantaged student because the home is a location of familiarity in comparison to the classroom where the student may be uncomfortable. Television programs designed for children, such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company, take advantage of the audiovisual format to educate. Sesame Street utilizes pauses in their program to allow children time to participate, as well as, repetition with slight variation in timing of visual and audio to reinforce participation and the information being presented. The Electric Company also has been successful in the technique of visual movement and synchronized voice to show graphically the blending process of reading words.

Video Link : The Electric Company, “silhouette profiles”

Image : The Electric Company, “silhouette profiles” pronouncing letters and words.

Comparing Print, Radio, and Television

Print was the first mass produced media with the ability to record information and be distributed. The radio was the medium to follow print but retained similar qualities in its serial processes of conveying information. The serial nature of print and radio required more explicit instruction to get an idea across. In comparison to television that allowed for parallel processing and is similar to face to face communication in the way image and gesture can be used in conjunction with audio information. The example of a baseball game being broadcasted over the radio in comparison to the same game on television demonstrated the need for more information to be explicitly stated when visual cues could not be used to help convey information.

Video Games

The video game has been dubbed the marriage of television and computers. The medium combines visual dynamism with an active participatory role for the child and is considered the introduction point for children to interact with computers. Video games, in the same way as television, activates parallel processing through audiovisual information and challenges the participant through the advancing of levels within the game.


The computer, in the words of Dean Brown a pioneer in the development of computer technology, is dynamic, interactive, and programmable. These qualities of the computer will provide children with the tools necessary to become active participants and use the medium to their advantage. Computer programming and word processing programs are believed to help children understand the functions of the computer and aid in literacy.

Multimedia Education

Multimedia education has been sought to exploit the positive attributes of media such as television, radio, and print to work in unison and be complementary in filling in the areas that certain media lack proficiency.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Using the Strengths of Media

This book focused on analyzing the positive effects of media. Print and radio emphasize a linear, sequential relationship between ideas or events. While, film and television emphasize action and simultaneous events happening in parallel. Each form of media has their own way of representing information which can benefit the education of a child in making apparent multiple perspectives of a situation. The strengths and weaknesses of media further support the need for multimedia education where the positive attributes of media can be exploited and be used in a complementary fashion to exercise the five senses. In Sweden, a program to discuss alcoholism utilized the strong points of media at educate. Print was used to convey facts of alcoholism and television programming to present the emotional feelings of alcoholics.

Education and Literacy in Media

The teaching of literacy and critical thinking of various media is one method thought to combat the negative effects of media. Television has been criticized as a medium that creates passive viewers and limits imagination. The concrete image and the speed at which information is presented through television does not allow time for the viewer to reflect or have the freedom to create their own image of the events. Another method to encourage development of the critical viewer is to have the viewer become a producer. The child as producer changes the perspective of the medium and allows the child to better engage the material presented in that particular medium.

Application | Techniques of Navigation

The emphasis of multimedia usage to exercise all the senses seems like an avenue that is being and can be further explored through the practices of locative media. The daily function of navigation already requires understanding of spatial and temporal representations when print media such as maps and descriptions are juxtaposed with images and the actual physical landscape. Locative media incorporates mobile technologies with audiovisual information and physical landscapes. This typology can be graphed to the relationship between children and playgrounds. In a similar format to the “treasure hunt”/scavenger hunt, the child equipped with a “treasure map”, can explore the physical landscape, compare it to the representations of space in printed or virtual formats, and have another layer of imagination encouraged through the non-visual effects of sound.


Images : Children on scavenger hunts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s