No Clear Link Between Screen Time and Brain Development in Kids

New research published in the journal Cortex shows that there is no clear evidence linking screen time to negative effects on cognition or mental health in children.

A new study says there is no clear evidence that time spent using screens negatively impacts brain development in kids.

The new study, published on October 19 in the journal Cortex, examined data from over 10,000 children and found no meaningful relationship between screen media use and measures of cognition or mental health.

Large Dataset Shows No Signs of “Screens Changing Brains”

The rise in digital technology use among youth has led to concerns that screen time could alter brain development trajectories.

However, this new research using data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study shows no clear evidence for these worries.

The ABCD Study contains data from over 11,000 children aged 9-12 years across the United States, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive datasets on youth development.

Researchers examined participants’ self-reported screen media use, including TV viewing, video games, texting, video chat, and social media.

They also analyzed each child’s brain imaging data, assessing communication patterns between different regions.

The study found no meaningful relationships between screen time and measures of cognition, mental health, or changes in the brain’s functional organization over a two-year period.

The results remained the same even after accounting for factors like socioeconomic status.

“Overall, this study does not support policies centered around limiting screen time to protect neurocognitive development,” the authors concluded.

No Link Between Screen Use Profiles and Wellbeing

The researchers used advanced statistical techniques to identify different patterns of media use.

Two main profiles emerged – one linked to high video game use, the other associated with low use across all platforms.

However, further analysis revealed these patterns of screen engagement did not predict outcomes like memory, intelligence, or symptoms of mental illness.

The profiles explained less than 5% of differences between kids’ test scores.

“Taken together, the two analyses conducted in this study do not point towards a practically significant relationship linking screen media engagement and maladaptive neurodevelopment cross-sectionally or over time,” the paper states.

Brain Network Changes Not Related to Screen Time

The researchers also examined whether screen use impacted changes in brain network connectivity over two years.

While measures of brain segregation and integration did change with age, indicating maturation, these shifts were not associated with media consumption.

“The absence of any correlation is a clear indicator that a causal relationship between screen engagement and functional brain organization over a two-year period is unlikely in this sample,” the authors write.

A recent study shows no evidence linking screen time with negative impacts on children's brain development or mental health.

Study Does Not Support Limiting Screen Time

Given the large sample size and breadth of data, the researchers believe their study provides convincing evidence against limiting screen use to protect neurocognitive development.

However, they note the study was restricted to kids aged 9-12 years and relied on self-reports of technology use.

Further research examining different age groups and using objective usage data could reveal more nuanced effects.

Nonetheless, the current findings contradict popular narratives around screens irreversibly “rewiring” young brains.

“Taken together, the results of this investigation do not support the idea of ‘screens changing brains’ in young people in a consistent or enduring way as many have proposed,” the paper concludes.

Article Details:

  • Title: Impact of digital screen media activity on functional brain organization in late childhood: Evidence from the ABCD study
  • Journal: Cortex
  • Authors: Jack Miller, Kathryn L. Mills, Matti Vuorre, Amy Orben, and Andrew K. Przybylski
  • DOI:
  • Published: October 19, 2023