Babies Exposed To Excessive Screen Time Show Differences In Brain Function After The Age Of Eight – Neuroscience News

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Resume: Increased exposure to screen time during childhood was linked to poor self-regulation and brain immaturity at age 8.

Font: Science, Technology and Research Agency

More children are now being exposed to mobile digital devices at an early age as a form of entertainment and distraction.

A longitudinal cohort study in Singapore has confirmed that excessive screen time in childhood is associated with detrimental outcomes in cognitive functions, which continue to be evident after the age of eight.

The research team analyzed data from 506 children who were enrolled in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) cohort study from birth.

When the children were 12 months old, parents were asked to report the average amount of screen time consumed on weekdays and on weekends each week. The children were then categorized into four groups based on screen time per day: less than one hour, one to two hours, two to four hours, and more than four hours. At 18 months of age, brain activity was also collected using electroencephalography (EEG), a highly sensitive tool that tracks changes in brain activity.

In addition to undergoing EEG, each child participated in various cognitive ability tests that measured their attention span and executive functioning (sometimes called self-regulation skills) at the age of nine.

The team first examined the association between screen time and EEG brain activity. EEG readings revealed that babies who were exposed to longer screen time had larger “low frequency” waveforms, a state that was correlated with cognitive lack of alertness.

To find out if screen time and observed changes in brain activity have adverse outcomes during later childhood, the research team analyzed all the data at three points for the same children: at 12 months, 18 months and nine years. As the duration of screen time increased, the greater the impaired brain activity and the more cognitive deficits were measured.

Children with executive function deficits often have difficulty controlling impulses or emotions, sustaining attention, following multi-step directions, and persisting with a difficult task.

A child’s brain grows rapidly from the time of birth until infancy. However, the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, or the prefrontal cortex, takes longer to develop.

Executive functions include the ability to sustain attention, process information, and regulate emotional states, all of which are essential for learning and school performance. The advantage of this slower growth in the prefrontal cortex is that the imbuing and formation of executive function skills can occur throughout the school years through higher education.

However, this same area of ​​the brain responsible for executive functioning skills is also highly vulnerable to environmental influences over an extended period of time.

This study points to excessive screen time as one of the environmental influences that can interfere with the development of executive function. Previous research suggests that babies have trouble processing information on a two-dimensional screen.

When looking at a screen, the baby is bombarded with a stream of rapid movements, continuous flashing lights, and scene changes, all of which require extensive cognitive resources to understand and process. The brain becomes “overwhelmed” and is unable to allow itself adequate resources to mature in cognitive abilities such as executive functions.

The researchers are also concerned that families who allow very young children to spend hours in front of the screen often face additional challenges. These include stressors such as food or housing insecurity and parental mood problems. More work is needed to understand the reasons behind excessive screen time in young children.

Further efforts are needed to distinguish the direct association between childhood screen use and familial factors that predispose early screen use to executive function impairments.

The study was a collaborative effort that included researchers from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine), A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences (SICS), the National Institute of Education , KK Hospital for Women and Children, McGill University and Harvard Medical School. was published in JAMA Pediatrics on January 31, 2023.

This shows a girl using a tablet.
The team first examined the association between screen time and EEG brain activity. The image is in the public domain.

Lead author Dr Evelyn Law from NUS Medicine and SICS Translational Neuroscience Program said: “The study provides compelling evidence to existing studies that our children’s screen time should be closely monitored, particularly during early brain development. Dr. Law is also a Consultant in the Division of Behavioral Development and Pediatrics at Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute, National University Hospital.

Professor Chong Yap Seng, Dean of Medicine at NUS and Clinical Director of SICS, added: “These findings from the GUSTO study should not be taken lightly as they have an impact on the potential development of future generations and human capital.

“With these results, we are one step closer to better understanding how environmental influences can affect children’s health and development. This would allow us to make more informed decisions to improve the health and potential of every Singaporean by giving every child the best start in life.”

Professor Michael Meaney, Director of the Translational Neuroscience Program at SICS, said: “In a country like Singapore, where parents work long hours and children are exposed to frequent screen viewing, it is important to study and understand the impact of time versus to screens in the development of children. brains.”

About this technology and brain development research news.

Author: Sharmaine Loh
Font: Science, Technology and Research Agency
Contact: Sharmaine Loh – Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Picture: The image is in the public domain.

original research: Open access.
Associations Between Child Screen Use, EEG Markers, and Cognitive Outcomes” by Evelyn Law et al. JAMA Pediatrics


Associations Between Child Screen Use, EEG Markers, and Cognitive Outcomes


See also

This shows the outline of a head and brain.

There is increasing research evidence on the association between infant screen use and negative cognitive outcomes related to attention and executive functions. The nature, timing, and persistence of screen time exposure on neural functions is currently unknown. Electroencephalography (EEG) allows elucidation of the neural correlates associated with cognitive deficits.


To examine associations between childhood screen time, EEG markers, and school-age cognitive outcomes using mediation analysis with structural equation modeling.

Design, setting and participants

This prospective maternal-infant dyad cohort study included participants from the Growing Up in Singapore Toward Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) population-based study. Pregnant mothers were enrolled in their first trimester from June 2009 through December 2010. A subset of children who completed neurodevelopmental visits at 12 months and 9 years had EEGs performed at 18 months. Data from 3 time points were reported at ages 12 months, 18 months, and 9 years. Mediation analyzes were used to investigate how neural correlates were involved in pathways from childhood screen time to latent construction of attention and executive functioning. Data for this study was collected from November 2010 to March 2020 and analyzed between October 2021 and May 2022.


Parent-reported screen time at 12 months of age.

Main results and measures

EEG power spectral density was collected at 18 months of age. The child’s attention and executive functions were measured with teacher-reported questionnaires and objective laboratory tasks at age 9 years.


In this sample of 437 children, the mean (SD) age at follow-up was 8.84 (0.07) years, and 227 children (51.9%) were boys. The mean (SD) amount of daily screen time at 12 months was 2.01 (1.86) hours. Screen time at 12 months of age contributed to multiple measures of attention and 9-year executive functioning (η2, 0.03-0.16; Cohen d, 0.35-0.87). A subset of 157 children underwent EEG at 18 months of age; EEG relative theta power and theta/beta ratio in the frontocentral and parietal regions showed a graded correlation with screen use over 12 months (r= 0.35-0.37). In the structural equation model explaining household income, frontocentral and parietal theta/beta ratios partially mediated the association between childhood screen time and school-age executive functioning (exposure-mediator β, 0.41; CI for 95%, 0.22 to 0.59; mediator-outcome β, −0.38; 95% CI, −0.64 to −0.11), forming an indirect pathway that accounted for 39.4% of the association .

Conclusions and Relevance

In this study, infant screen use was associated with altered cortical EEG activity before the age of 2 years; the identified EEG markers mediated the association between childhood screen time and executive functions. Further efforts are urgently needed to distinguish the direct association of childhood screen use versus familial factors that predispose early screen use to executive function impairments.

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