Prolonged Screen Time May Be Changing Your Child's Brain Structure, Study Finds

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 - 1:20PM
Neuroscience
Medical Tech
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 - 1:20PM
Prolonged Screen Time May Be Changing Your Child's Brain Structure, Study Finds
< >
Pixabay
Sitting your kid down in front of a screen and letting them watch Fortnite streams for hours may buy you some peace and quiet, but according to a new study, it will also physically change the way their brains develop.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have begun a decade-long $300 million study to learn more about the effects of screen time on 11,000 kids. Funded by the National Institute of Health, it will be years before all of the data from the study can be collected and analyzed, but what they have learned so far based on the first batch of brain scans is that kids who spend 7+ hours a day using smartphones, tablets, or playing video games have thinner cerebral cortexes that those who don't. "That's the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses," Dr. Gaya Dowling explained to 60 Minutes, adding that the thinning of the cortex is something that typically happens with age. "What we would expect to see later is happening a little bit earlier."



Because the study is still in its early stages, Dowling was hesitant to make any definitive claims that screen time is the main source of the thinning cortexes observed in the brain scans. "We don't know if it's being caused by the screen time," she told Anderson Cooper. "We don't know yet if it's a bad thing. It won't be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we're seeing in this single snapshot." When asked how long it will take to answer those pressing questions, Dowling said that some would be answered in a few years but that "some of the really interesting questions about these long-term outcomes, we're gonna have to wait awhile because they need to happen."

That's not great news for parents today (their children will probably not be kids in a decade), but it could mean major changes for the next generation. We all heard as kids that sitting too close to the television would hurt our vision, but there was no scientific evidence to support those claims. If this study proves that screen time is causing parts of the brain to age more rapidly or that there are negative side effects, more people will pay attention. This could ripple outside of the home and into schools and public places, changing the way people approach what has long been regarded as a banal distraction.
Science
Science News
Neuroscience
Medical Tech
No