Dorothy Singer, co-director of the Family Television Research and Consultation Center at Yale University, organized a study using the ``Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood'' TV show, one of the rare children's programs that tries very hard to get kids to use their own imaginations. She and her colleagues compared four groups of youngsters - those who had watched the Rogers show alone, those watching the show with an adult, those allowed to play on their own without TV or an adult, and those who played with an adult but didn't watch television.
Applying some standard tests of creativity, they found that the kids who watched no TV and played with the adult scored highest. Next came the children viewing Mr. Rogers along with an adult; then the youngsters watching the show alone; and, last, the children left to play by themselves.
Dr. Singer draws a number of observations from this. First, the crucial importance of adults interacting with children. ``There is nothing that's going to take the place of mummy, that's for sure,'' she says.
Second, ``It's a richer experience when you read together, and it's the same with TV.'' Third, that high quality children's programming, like Mr. Rogers, can help develop imagination.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver launched a much different kind of study. They found an otherwise typical Canadian town that, because of geography, did not receive television service.
Administering tests such as the ``alternate uses task'' - which basically asks a person to think up different ways of using a common item like a newspaper - they compared fourth graders and seventh graders in that town to those in two other towns that had TV. The children in the community without television, dubbed ``Notel,'' did significantly better on these tasks.
Two years after ``Notel'' had obtained television, the researchers returned to the towns and administered the same tests. This time, the scores of the ``Notel'' students had fallen to the same level as those of children in two other TV towns.
``We suspect that television displaces other activities, some of which could have a positive influence on creativity scores,'' says Tannis MacBeth Williams, director of the study, which was published in book form in 1985 (``The Impact of Television: A Natural Experiment in Three Communities,'' Academic Press, $34.95). ``We had an impression,'' she says, ``that one of the reasons the kids in the town without TV scored higher was because they'd been bored more often and had had to figure out more things to do.''