Published: 18th November 2023
Extended screen time a detriment to children’s cognitive development: Study
In this study, the researchers analysed 33 brain imaging studies spanning 23 years and involving 30,000 participants
Scientists have found that extended screen time leads to physical and functional changes in the brains of children under the age of 12, which impacts their development. They arrived at this conclusion after reviewing 33 brain imaging studies spanning 23 years and involving 30,000 participants.
Here, screen time is defined by the researchers as the time children spend watching television or playing computer games. This screen time was found to have an impact on the development of executive functions of the brain, such as working memory, planning and responding flexibly to changing situations by making structural changes in the pre-frontal cortex.
These researchers, who were from Hong Kong, China, and Australia also found that the children's ability to process sensory information such as touch, pressure, heat, cold, and pain was also affected by changes in their parietal lobes, a report by PTI states.
The researchers set out to understand how engagement with digital objects with screens influenced brain plasticity during critical periods of child development. Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, is the ability of neuronal networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganisation, resulting in the development of distinct or new functions.
Language acquisition is believed to occur up to the age of twelve, but visual development is assumed to occur before a child turns eight.
The children's occipital lobes, which aid in the interpretation of visual information, and temporal lobes, which are crucial for memory, hearing, and language, were also discovered to be altered by digital activity.
These findings have been published by researchers in the Journal of Early Education and Development.
The study's corresponding author, Hui Li of The Education University of Hong Kong said, "It should be recognised by both educators and caregivers that children's cognitive development may be influenced by their digital experiences."
Some studies have even found screen time to negatively impact brain activity needed for attention and higher thinking abilities that control one's behaviour, the researchers said in their review which analysed studies on children's digital use and associated brain development published between January 2000 and April 2023.
Among children, tablet users had worse brain function and problem-solving tasks, found some studies that conducted device-based research. Video games and high internet usage were also found to be associated with degrading intelligence scores and brain volume.
However, instead of advocating limits on screen time, the researchers urged "policymakers to help parents navigate the digital world by promoting programs which support positive brain development.”
"Limiting their screen time is effective but confrontational,” Li said. “More innovative, friendly, and practical strategies could be developed and implemented. Those in policymaking positions should supply suitable guidance, involvement and backing for children's digital use," he added.
"It is imperative for policymakers to develop and execute policies grounded in empirical evidence to safeguard and enhance brain development in children as they navigate the digital era," iterated Dandan Wu of the Education University of Hong Kong, who is the lead author of the study.
This might entail providing tools and rewards for the development and research of digital interventions meant to support children's brain development.
Wu discussed the study's practical implications, saying that by providing appropriate guidance on children's computer use, educators and carers could benefit.