September 09, 2012
TV War Images Bad For Mental Health

Um, TV watching is a bad idea anyway.

Repeated exposure to violent images from the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Iraq War may have led to an increase in physical and psychological ailments in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults, according to a new UC Irvine study.

The study sheds light on the lingering effects of “collective traumas” such as natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks. A steady diet of graphic media images may have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences, says study author Roxane Cohen Silver, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior, medicine and public health.

Probably some people can watch this stuff and be totally unaffected and others get stressed out.

A friend likes to call me up and ask what I think about some event she saw on TV. I point out (repeatedly) that I do not own a TV and am blissfully ignorant about assorted wars, revolutions, and terrorist attacks. Living in a heavily filtered cocoon and liking it. I want better filters. I want to be able to do minuses on stories on Google News so that once I minus (as distinct from plus) a story I never see articles about it. Just give me substantive analyses of patterns of data and cut out events and partisan political rhetoric. Remember, if you don't avoid the traumatic images on TV you could end up like Sharon on South Park, unable to stop watching a war (about 3:50 in).

Avoid pictures of trauma. They are bad for your mental health, maybe.

Seeing two particular kinds of images in the early days of the Iraq War was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms over time: soldiers engaged in battle and dead U.S. and Allied soldiers.

We need much better filters for dealing with stimuli from the world. Online news filtering tools still seem very primitive to me. I also want better ways to cut noise from my local environment. Imagine software that heard the approach of a truck, predicted the truck's future sound pattern, and created noise cancellation waves. Or imagine sirens that turned off when sensors showed no humans were about to get in the way of a rescue vehicle.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 September 09 06:44 PM  Comm Tech Society

PacRim Jim said at September 10, 2012 2:10 AM:

Why not keep all awareness of death a secret?
Consider Homo sapiens and their oh-so-fragile mental health.
The wimpification of America continues apace.
Ask yourself: Why is it that post-traumatic stress is not endemic among doctors? After all, life and death are their business.

john said at September 10, 2012 5:14 AM:

How do we not watch, and yet maintain empathy for those who have to live it?

Abelard Lindsey said at September 10, 2012 9:16 AM:

I own a TV (big screen) only because I am married and we like to watch movies together while drinking wine and eating cheese. Usually we watch video on demand although occasionally I rent DVD's. If I lived by myself, I probably would not own a TV.

Jason said at September 10, 2012 12:45 PM:

Randall, while I sometimes enjoy your blog, your "analysis" is often extremely annoying. This is a prime example. Maybe there is more to life than one's own precious psychological health. Maybe there is an external reality that shouldn't be shirked from, especially when it concerns the sacrifices of one's own countrymen.

Also, you really need to stop linking a new study that suggests X, followed by a headline/post that flatly states X. Not even the crap pop-sci pablum that gets posted in the mainstream media enjoys such unconditional acceptance.

Wolf-Dog said at September 10, 2012 1:50 PM:

It is possible that many of the action movies, science fiction movies (which are often full of tension and horror, as many of these are rated R) also have a negative effect on the brain.

In fact, the news about wars are probably far less graphic and depressing than the many violent movies that are full of tension.

The soldiers who personally experience the wars in the Middle East are far more damaged, and this includes their families who are also severely hurt when they see what happened to these wounded and brain-damaged disabled veterans. The psychological and economic cost of caring for the veterans who have been returning from Afghanistan and Iraq will be worse than Viet Nam.

Mthson said at September 10, 2012 5:05 PM:

Re Vietnam:

There were 3.5x as many US wounded in Vietnam as in Iraq & Afghanistan combined, and almost 10x as many US casualties. (Source.)

Our era is pretty comfortable compared to previous eras on most metrics.

Mthson said at September 10, 2012 5:20 PM:

Also, taking into account changes in population size, 0.03% of the US pop died in Vietnam, compared to 0.002% died in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Source.)

(Still, war is always terrible.)

On a side note, wow, the US civil war was amazingly destructive, with 2% of the population dying. Complete mismanagement on the part of those politicians who couldn't find a way.

Wolf-Dog said at September 10, 2012 6:29 PM:

This article says that 360,000 to 400,000 people suffered mild traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The mild traumatic brain injuries are due to the force of the improvised explosive devices.,000_traumatic_brain_injuries_for_vets_coming_from_iraq_and_afghanistan

It is said that 5 % to 15 % of these patients do not recover from the mild traumatic brain injury.

Jason said at September 11, 2012 4:42 PM:

"It is said that 5 % to 15 % of these patients do not recover from the mild traumatic brain injury."

Said by whom? And what does it mean to "recover"?

If these types of "mild traumatic brain injuries" are so destructive, an entire generation of young men should have been rendered helpless after WWI and WWII. Yet they did just fine by and large.

BTW, if you think is a legitimate source of scientific information, your probably suffering from some brain trauma yourself.

Ronald Brak said at September 12, 2012 6:59 PM:

Concussion is bad for your health. The longer the period of unconscioussness and larger the number of concussions the worse the prognosis. If an impact results in a six hour period of unconsiousness, being able to tie one's own shoe laces is considered to be a good recovery. I don't know how many US service people are suffering concussions, or how often, or how severe. I do know that survival rates for blast injuries are up due to the use of body armour and improved medical treatment. This results in more people surviving blasts that result in loss of limbs and/or concussion than in the past.

Wolf-Dog said at September 12, 2012 11:11 PM:

Jason: "It is said that 5 % to 15 % of these patients do not recover from the mild traumatic brain injury."
Said by whom? And what does it mean to "recover"?

The article above says it, but you attack the article on the basis of "guilt by association" (the fact that the website is not established makes anything the website quotes unscientific, even if it is quoting academic research).

Anyway, here is a quotation from another article that appeared in USA Today (summarized at Wikipedia):
"A March 4, 2009, article in USA Today[100] reported that according to a Pentagon estimate, as many as 360,000 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts may have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including 45,000 to 90,000 veterans with persistent symptoms requiring specialized care. (A separate estimate for the Iraq conflict alone was not specified.)"

45,000 to 90,000 out of 360,000 veterans with persistent symptoms requiring specialized care, is at least 10 % of the ones who experienced shock waves from the explosions sufficiently damaged to require significant care both by their families and government.


Furthermore, you say that "If these types of "mild traumatic brain injuries" are so destructive, an entire generation of young men should have been rendered helpless after WWI and WWII. Yet they did just fine by and large."

But the fact is that the famous cafes in Paris were essentially empty for well over a decade after France "won" World War I against Germany. They did not "do just find by and large."

Ronald Brak said at September 13, 2012 5:05 AM:

And Australia used to donote huge amounts of artificial limbs each year to developing countries as veterans of the two world wars died off. It's down to a dribble now.

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