The Impact of Background Television on Parent–Child Interaction


  • Tiffany A. Pempek is now at Otterbein College in Westerville, OH. Lauren A. Murphy is now at Portland State University, Portland, OR. Marie Evans Schmidt is now at the Center on Media and Child Health, Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA.

    Aspects of this research were presented at the meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development and the International Communication Association. This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0111811, BCS-0519197). Findings and opinions expressed in this manuscript do not reflect endorsement by the National Science Foundation. We wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of Elizabeth Harvey and Erica Scharrer. We also thank the videotape coders for this project: Kesina Gray, Brittany Hutton, Alexis Lauricella, Angie Naniot, and Sarah Rudolv.

concerning this article should be addressed to Daniel R. Anderson, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study investigated the hypothesis that background television affects interactions between parents and very young children. Fifty-one 12-, 24-, and 36-month-old children, each accompanied by 1 parent, were observed for 1 hr of free play in a laboratory space resembling a family room. For half of the hour, an adult-directed television program played in the background on a monaural television set. During the other half hour, the television was not on. Both the quantity and quality of parent–child interaction decreased in the presence of background television. These findings suggest one way in which early, chronic exposure to television may have a negative impact on development.