TV Makes You Dumb and Dumber

A new study of Americans by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that watching TV, including TV news, diminishes a person’s score on a basic civic literacy exam.

In fact, the study of 2,508 Americans found that, for each hour of TV news and documentaries watched, a person loses 0.08% per hour per week in his test score. Watching a movie you own or rent is even worse, decreasing your test score 0.14% per hour per week!

The study also reports, “An American who lacks a college degree but has initiative and desire – and who does not spend too much time watching TV and talking on the phone – can acquire more knowledge than a couch potato with a college degree.”

The study shows that reading about current events and history in books, newspapers and magazines, discussing current events and public affairs daily or weekly, and participating in more involved or advanced politics (such as signing a petition or writing an elected official representative) all increased one’s test score on the basic exam, as did getting a bachelor’s degree and actively using the Internet.

Finally, the survey notes that Americans who do better on the civic literacy test also do better financially.

Among the questions asked on the exam were:

1)    Which of the following are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence?

2)    What are the three branches of government?

3)    Name two countries that were our enemies during Word War II?

4)    What part of the government has the power to declare war?

5)    What was the main issue in the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglass in 1858?



Change in Civic Knowledge

Getting a bachelor’s degree

+6.90% on the test

Frequently discussing current events and public affairs

+5.50% on the test

Participating in politics

+1.70% per action

Reading about history or current events

+0.10% per hour per week

Watching movies you own or rent

-0.14% per hour per week

Visiting on the telephone

-0.10% per hour per week

Watching TV news or documentaries

-0.08% per hour per week


 – Source:  “Our Fading Heritage,” Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 11/20/08.