Emotions and television

>> Overview emotions and television


International Study: Television - Sometimes Triggers Laughter, Sometimes Triggers Nightmares (2013/2014)

In a national and international study, 510 eight to twelve year-olds in Germany, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and Uganda were interviewed, by trained interviewers, about their emotional experiences when watching television. The children were asked to talk about television experiences which had really made them laugh, and about an experience which had led to a nightmare, and to draw pictures of these.

Children's nightmares
Results: Eight out of ten children were able to identify a nightmare experience that had clearly been induced by television. Slightly more girls than boys talk about having television-induced nightmares. The frequency of the nightmares decreases with age. 
A comparison of the five countries shows that children from Germany are least likely to have bad dreams induced by television; children from Uganda, however, are the most likely to have them. Three quarters of the films and programmes which caused children to have a nightmare are, according to the children,“for adults“. Nine out of ten children in Brazil said this – comparatively the most. However, in all countries there were also some children who had nightmares after watching children’s programmes.

Television primarily induces nightmares when programme content exceeds children’s current imaginative capacity in uncontrollable and overwhelming ways. The foundations of what children have thus far taken as a given are shaken. They experience something they find difficult to integrate into their world view. At the same time, it is irrelevant to younger children how realistic these events really are. They react with emotions such as fear, helplessness and horror. These are therefore traumatic television experiences that children are unable to cope with. They exceed the children’s ability to process and assimilate them. These experiences remain present, in a kind of temporary store, and they trigger nightmares, possibly as a way of initiating this processing and assimilation.  

The children's descriptions and pictures reveal typical, repeated patterns in terms of how children's imaginative worlds are unsettled by television experiences and then reflected in their nightmares: 

  • what people or creatures can do to each other,
  • how gruesome people or creatures can be,
  • situations I could find myself in.
Holler, Andrea; Müller, Amelie: "I'm running very fast but they can still catch me". When television becomes a traumatic experience. TelevIZIon, 27/2014/E, pp. 38-42.