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Television Kills, Says Top German Psychiatrist

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Friday, 5, January, 2007 (16, Dhul Hijjah, 1427)

Roger Harrison, Arab News

JEDDAH, 5 January 2007 - The German School in Jeddah will host a public lecture on Jan. 14 by Manfred Spitzer, a world famous specialist in the study of cognitive neuroscience and psychopathology. Currently he is a professor and the director of the Transfer Center for Neuroscience and Learning that he set up in 2004 at the Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Ulm in Germany.

Spitzer is visiting Jeddah at the invitation of Thomas Friedrich, deputy headmaster and head of the primary school at the German School in Jeddah. "I knew Professor Spitzer back in Germany," Friedrich told Arab News, "and I am delighted that he responded to our request for training for our staff and agreed to share his expertise with a wider audience."

The research center investigates questions of educational relevance that range from preschool education to career changes and lifelong learning. Of particular interest, in the light of Saudi Arabia’s declared intention to revamp the education system, is the application of the center’s results to formal education. Other aspects of his work include the deleterious effect of television on health and mental acuity.

Teachers from a variety of different types of schools and educational institutions participate in setting up the experiments that are carried out in controlled classroom settings. The scientists then examine the effectiveness of the results, before applying them in kindergartens, schools and other educational institutions.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging and a laboratory for electroencephalography allow the scientists to observe the brain while it is in the process of learning. The application of technology under controlled yet real conditions allows an assessment of the impact of emotions on successful learning. This close interaction of fundamental research and pedagogical application allows a quick and direct transfer of brain research findings to educational settings.

Alongside his role as head of the Department of Psychiatry at the university of Ulm in Germany, Spitzer is also a musician, has a PhD in philosophy, writes a weekly column and has hosted TV programs.

Spitzer says he has found a direct correlation between watching excessive amounts of television and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.

"People who watch too much have little time for sport or movement of any kind," he said. "They eat more in turn and that leads to them becoming overweight and dying earlier."

In his book, titled "Beware of the TV Screen," Spitzer quantified the damage television inflicts on the mind. "Children who watch TV have narrow horizons," he said.

According to Spitzer, television is responsible for the lethargy and diet-related deaths of 20,000 Germans a year. "It reduces the plasticity of their brains which remain unstimulated and fail to develop properly," he once told UK’s Telegraph newspaper. "Later they smell and taste things differently because their senses are warped and, as adults, go on to buy unhealthy foods, similar to those they have seen advertised on television."

Television in early childhood he contends also often led to attention deficiency, violence and depression that affected children’s performance in the classroom, he said.

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