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I haven't watched TV since 1969. I worked in it for decades, and knew enough not to watch it. It makes you stupid, and my colleagues in the networks agree! Some of them would point out what a verbal beating they'd get from friends who actually saw what got broadcast. When you work in most aspects of TV, you rarely have time to watch what's going out.

source

Are there any peer reviewed studies supporting this myth? Surely documentaries don't, right?

I would like to see both correlation and causation.

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    Wow... I started reading your quote and though "That sounds like Ken Rockwell." It's sad I was right. – Flimzy Oct 9 '11 at 18:39
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    Well, if it's a TV show that makes you stupid, then sure. Looking at a glowing box does not decrease intelligence. – Tortoise Feb 3 '12 at 23:15
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    Assuming you would otherwise be spending your time becoming 'smarter'... yes. – Mateen Ulhaq Apr 21 '12 at 4:41
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    Given the amount of crap on TV these days (or in media in general), I would say yes. – Mircea Chirea Jun 18 '12 at 23:00
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    "Movies are OK because they are art, like a painting, a play or a symphony." Has he even seen a movie recently? – DJClayworth Jul 26 '12 at 20:17
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Watching television does not negatively affect intelligence.

Since your brain is recognizing visual input, it is in fact creating neural associations that were not already in place. No matter what you watch, the brain is busy either creating new associations (learning) or recalling previous associations (remembering) [On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, Cognitive Evolution by Alice Travis, The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil].

In this way, you cannot become "more stupid" just by receiving visual input even if it is from a television (assuming the person is not susceptible to seizures or has some other input processing disorder)

However, there are several studies that suggest that prolonged exposure to television can negatively affect attention span (especially in children) ["Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children" by Dimitri A. Christakis, et. al]. Also it is possible for various parts of the eye and its connections to the brain to be damaged from staring at a digital screen for long periods of time [Visual Ergonomics, Jeffrey Anshel]. Likewise, it has been known for quite some time that long periods of sitting (which watching tv tends to encourage) have negative effects on a person's health ["Television Watching, Energy Intake, and Obesity in US Children" by Carlos J. Crespo, et. al].

There are many more articles on the subject that can be found at scholar.google.com.

Bottom line: The act of receiving visual input from a television does not negatively affect your intelligence. However, prolonged viewing can have negative effects on physical and mental health so go play outside every once in a while :)

Edit - Apologies for the lack of references. They are now included in the answer. Also, thank you @Reuben for pointing out the issue with seizures.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    no references, brain ≠ intelligence – Ruben Jul 30 '12 at 16:15
  • On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, Cognitive Evolution by Alice Travis, The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil, "Television Watching, Energy Intake, and Obesity in US Children" by Carlos J. Crespo, et. al, "Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children" by Dimitri A. Christakis, et. al. And I realize this a network of skeptics, but I'm sorry, the brain and nervous system are for sure the only parts of the body that can be considered to contribute to intelligence – user7996 Jul 30 '12 at 16:49
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    I said they aren't the same, not that they don't contribute. An epileptic seizure can harm your brain and intelligence and it can be induced by visual input. – Ruben Jul 30 '12 at 18:37
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    @degausser: The fact that watching visual input creates new neural connections doesn't tell us anything about whether it increases intelligence. To answer that question you actually need to do some intelligence tests. – Christian Aug 1 '12 at 8:15
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    @degausser: (1) Being stupid is the opposite of being intelligent. If an activity reduces someone IQ, it makes them stupid according to a meaningful definition of "stupid". (2) Everything you do creates "new patterns in your brain". You don't add any information by declaring that a specific activity does. It's meaninless neurobabble. – Christian Aug 6 '12 at 10:44

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