A natural experiment occurred in Brazil between 1960 and 1990 as the government there pursued a TV expansion strategy, moving into a new state every few years and building the infrastructure for TV watching. This staggered project provided a staggered change in behavior as peoples TV viewing changed in each newly furbished state. The end result: a significant rise, and a staggered rise province by province, as TV viewing spread. Soap opera viewing (i.e., infidelity-viewing) was identified as one of the most significant aspects of the change. Henry Potrykus of MARRI summarizes the research in a brief paper.
We in the states have been watching TV for so long, and its content increasingly depicts family lifestyles that we have come to accept and condone (sex outside of marriage, divorce, and cohabitation), that we are likely totally unaware of the effect of TV watching on the family behavior of ourselves and of our children. Even mature adults are affected. Divorce among those fifty and above has grown very significantly in the last few decades. Instead of seeking marital therapy that works, the divorce court seems to be the route of choice.
Where lies this power to change? One of the most powerful resources of the mind is the faculty of the imagination. Skilled hypnotherapists use it all the time, and to great effect. Top athletes become experts at using it constantly in their preparation and even during peak contests. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, psychotherapists ever, Milton Erickson, started early in his career with traditional hypnosis but forty years later had evolved to getting the right helpful image into the mind of his client... By the art of storytelling. TV combines the story, the image, and the idea. No wonder it has such powerful effects.
Americans watch an average of 2.8 hours of TV per day according to one of the best sources, the Department of Labor’s Time Use Survey. Can we have a strong culture that feeds on so much family-weakening imagery? Brazil says no.
It may not be the picture or what is viewed as much as the ideas—conveyed most powerfully through the image—that have the impact, as Richard Weaver in 1948 contended and as he foretold the generalized effects of TV, which he called “The Great Stereopticon” in his classic “Ideas Have Consequences.” Ideas with story images have even greater consequences for good or for ill. Parents, take note. And my wife and I had better be careful about what we watch on TV. We become what we think about.