Health – The Function of the Frontal Lobe

MTV-Problems with Violence

There is a concern that many teenagers are moving from more typical television options to MTV (music television) and its imitators. This type of music programming constantly stimulates the visual senses through its provocative, fleeting images of rapidly changing scenes. Not only do the images rapidly change (even multiple images per second on occasion) but the ear is stimulated as well. This eye-ear combination seems calculated to induce an even more profound shutdown of the analytical processes.

One study that uniquely demonstrates this was done in a maximum-security mental hospital with 222 patients. During a period of about a year, patients were exposed to seven months of MTV followed by five months without it (normal TV options remained available). The results showed that aggressive behavior decreased by up to 52 percent.

The standard, modern, rapid-paced television has a well-proven negative influence on the frontal lobe. However, we see here indications that the effects of MTV are even worse.

Television and Sex

Television also effectively increases sexual activity in teens and younger children. Studies show it significantly decreases the age of first sexual intercourse. The more television watched, the lower the age for that first sexual encounter. Not only do studies show it, but the children themselves report that television encourages them to take part in sexual activity too soon.

Television Is Addictive

Most people do not realize that television is addictive. They find themselves gravitating toward the set without thinking about it, and some leave it on all day. In 1976, the Detroit Free Press conducted a survey to help determine why their newspaper circulation was decreasing. The survey results showed that most people received their news and information from television. This is unfortunate because, as we have seen, in some respects it is the poorest source of information. We can learn so much more from reading newspapers, newsmagazines, or online computer news services than by watching one-sided news clips pass before our eyes in rapid succession. Also, we may miss a point, but we cannot go back and take another look. Reading is by far a better way to review the news, learn new things, and involve our frontal lobe.

The Detroit Free Press did not stop with their survey. They went on to offer $500 to any family who would give up television for one month. The paper extended the invitation to 120 families. A total of 93 of them could not be enticed to part with their television for even thirty days. However, 27 families accepted their offer. To make sure they could not cheat, the newspaper company installed electronic devices that would interfere with any television used on their premises.

The results of the one-month trial were amazing. Family members manifested actual withdrawal symptoms. Insomnia and headaches were common. One man, noted for being a kind husband, lost his cool during the first week, became irritated, and began beating his wife. However, throughout the month, attitudes changed. At the end of the month, to almost everyone’s surprise, all 27 families said that it had been a good experience. Most of the families put their extra time to good use by getting things done around the house. One of the most rewarding findings was that the families were able to relate to each other in ways they had not done for years. They found things they could do together; their minds were more creative, and they were actually enjoying life more than when they had television.

Would they go back to television now that they earned their $500? They were generally convinced that they would do much better if they kept television viewing to a minimum. The study helped to illustrate television’s addictive allure and demonstrated that in many respects TV viewing works against us rather than for us. This study actually provides a glimpse into another danger of TV viewing: the influence of parents is greatly diminished when TV becomes the main companion to children in a home. This lack of parental involvement in the lives of children directly relates back to another frontal lobe robber: alcohol and tobacco use. Researchers from Louisiana State University Medical Centre in New Orleans, Lousiana, demonstrated this when they studied over 2,000 fifth and sixth graders for three to four years. Children who reported that their parents spent more time with them and had more communication with them were less likely to use alcohol and tobacco. They were also less likely to choose friends who used these substances. Unfortunately, research shows what we all would expect: with more television viewing, the amount of time spent in active conversation with family members significantly decreases. If television viewing is depriving us of active time spent together as a family, parents may likely reap an extremely bitter harvest.

Television Robs Spiritual Qualities

Television viewing, because of the time it takes, can keep us away from other meaningful activities and pursuits, including spending time with God. When we look at an average person’s weekly activities before and after the arrival of television, we see that the amount of time in church or in reading spiritual material such as the Bible has noticeably decreased. The reason for this probably has to do with more than TV subtly stealing away our time. Remember, television depresses activity in the frontal lobe, which is the seat of spirituality, morality, and the will. We would expect a corresponding decrease in such intangible frontal lobe qualities as spirituality and faith in God.

However, if we consider television from just the standpoint of time: it often captivates the few hours of discretionary time that we have in our day. Before television, the three most profound influences on American values were the family, the church, and the school. If the amount of time we spend in an activity directly corresponds to its power to shape our values, then in the 1950s television superseded the church. In the 1960s TV superseded the family; and by the 1970s it superseded the school. Currently, United States children spend approximately 20 percent of their waking hours watching television. The average American child, by the time he graduates from high school, has spent more time in front of the television set than he spent in 13 years in the classroom.

Many believe that these thousands of hours of random exposure to television programs have profoundly affected our nation [the United States]. They blame TV as one of the prime reasons for a decline in our nation’s moral values. Some critics would like to use legislation to fix the problem, but we should not and cannot legislate what people do in their homes. Families should set their own rules. But how can a family be motivated to set rules without being adequately informed of the injurious effects of television? Somehow, accurate information should go out to every family in America so that informed decisions can be made. If simple, healthy, and enjoyable TV-less family activities became the foundation of the home life, I believe there will be generally few regrets about abandoning the former life in which the TV set held full control.

If any are still wavering as to whether television should be emphasized less in their homes, let me summarize 17 deleterious effects of TV watching.

  • Produces a hypnotic effect, by passing the frontal lobe filtering
  • Reduces interest in reading and learning
  • Weakens brain power
  • Encourages poor lifestyle habits
  • Encourages obesity
  • Increases daydreaming
  • Weakens creativity
  • May reduce our powers of discrimination
  • Trains in non-reaction
  • Influences viewers to regard violence lightly
  • It makes children more irritable
  • Increases aggressiveness
  • Accelerates sexual activity
  • Addictive
  • Reduces time available for productive achievement
  • Steals time from family interaction
  • Adversely affects spiritual pursuits

These harmful effects collectively build a strong case for personal action—today. After all, the very moral conscience of you and your family—residing in your frontal lobes—may be hanging in the balances.

Summary List of Seven Actions to Take for Enhancing the Function of the Frontal Lobe

  • Protect the frontal lobe from mechanical injury: boxing, football, and motorcycle riding are examples of high-risk activities.
  • Prevent diseases that may damage the frontal lobe; e.g., controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, current tobacco use, heart disease, and alcohol.
  • Improve the quality of your brain’s blood supply
  • By breathing clean, fresh, well-oxygenated air
  • By taking deep breaths of fresh air you may be able to boost oxygen saturation sufficiently to improve frontal lobe function
  • Provide good nutrition. A total vegetarian diet that is free from all stimulating agents appears to be the best diet to improve the abilities of our front brains.
  • Get adequate sunshine as it increases serotonin production in the daytime. This, in turn, can help prevent depression and fatigue.
  • Challenge your frontal lobes by exercising the thinking power of your brain. Serious reading, the study of nature, asking questions about the vast world surrounding you, and other wholesome uses of your mental capacities tend to produce a salutary frontal lobe.
  • Control what you see and hear. Exposing your mind to great inspirational material will enlarge the mind and strengthen the intellect. Since spirituality, morality, and the will are centered in the frontal lobe of the brain, the inspirational material chosen should ideally appeal to your spiritual and moral being. The study of the word of God fills this requirement like no other can.


God has provided each one of us with the power to freely choose how we will live. And He usually does not interfere, even when we make bad choices. Truly, there is much truth in the adage that every person is the architect of his own fortune.

In view of this tremendous power that you have been given to shape your own future, won’t you take some time today to again seriously look at your lifestyle? I challenge you to reflect on your current health habits and ask yourself what you can do to take advantage of what you have learned. Try to identify some concrete steps that you can take within the next week to help protect and enhance your frontal lobe—and of course with it, your entire body. A healthful lifestyle makes sense. Do not merely follow your old ways of doing things just because they are comfortable, or “because everyone else is doing it.” In the words of Scripture, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2.

Dr. Neil Nedley, M.D., Proof Positive, Nedley Publishing Co., Ardmore, Oklahoma, May 1999, excerpt from chapter, “The Frontal Lobe.”