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Understanding the Impact of Screen Time on Cognitive Functions: A Review of Research Findings and Practical Implications

Heramb Kulkarni, Council for Creative Education, Finland


Within contemporary society, the surge in digital device prevalence has sparked heightened apprehensions concerning the repercussions of screen time on cognitive functions, especially in children. The aim of this review is to investigate the fundamental aspects and disputes related to this subject by amalgamating empirical research discoveries and explaining practical implications for educators, parents, and policymakers.


Controversies Encircling Screen Time

One of the primary controversies revolves around the potential consequences of excessive screen time on children's cognitive development. While some argue that prolonged exposure to screens might result in decreased attention spans, weakened social aptitudes, and disturbed sleep patterns, others posit that not all screen time is deleterious, as educational content or interactive activities could potentially offer cognitive advantages (Radesky et al., 2020). This persistent argument underscores the significance of finding a harmonious equilibrium between technological usage and other developmental pursuits.


Research Findings

Empirical studies have shed light on the relationship between screen time and cognitive functions:

  1. Mental Health Implications: Research suggests that children with higher screen time and reduced play may be more susceptible to mental health conditions (Twenge & Campbell, 2018).

  2. Problematic Smartphone Usage: Excessive smartphone use, characterized by addictive symptoms, has been associated with depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders in adolescents (Elhai et al., 2020).

  3. Parental Education: Parental guidance and education play a pivotal role in mitigating excessive screen time during early childhood, thereby promoting healthy cognitive development (Jiang et al., 2021).


Impact on Cognitive Functions

Excessive screen time has been linked to various cognitive impairments:

  1. Attention Span: Prolonged exposure to screens has been associated with diminished attention span and reduced concentration (Lillard et al., 2015).

  2. Problem-Solving Skills: Excessive screen time may impede problem-solving abilities, hindering cognitive development (Swing et al., 2010).

  3. Cognitive Flexibility: Screen time can influence cognitive flexibility, affecting decision-making processes and adaptive behaviors (Mendoza et al., 2020).

  4. Memory Consolidation: Screen exposure before bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns, impairing memory consolidation processes crucial for cognitive function (Cain & Gradisar, 2010).


Practical Significance

Understanding the practical implications of screen time on cognition is imperative:

  1. Productivity and Learning Outcomes: Excessive screen time may diminish productivity and hinder learning outcomes in educational settings (Hutton et al., 2020).

  2. Limiting Screen Time: Implementing restrictions on screen time can enhance focus, memory retention, and overall cognitive abilities (Fitzpatrick et al., 2019).

  3. Effective Management: Strategically managing screen time can optimize daily functioning and promote long-term cognitive well-being (Barr et al., 2010).


Evaluating Boundaries on Screen Usage

Establishing clear boundaries and limits on screen usage can be efficacious:

  1. Monitoring Screen Time: Tracking actual screen time before and after implementing boundaries facilitates observation of reductions and behavioral changes (Nathanson et al., 2014).

  2. Behavior Assessment: Monitoring changes in behavior, such as improved focus, sleep patterns, and engagement in alternative activities, provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of screen time management strategies (Kildare & Middlemiss, 2017).

  3. Stakeholder Engagement: Gathering surveys and feedback from stakeholders, including parents, educators, and children, enables the assessment of the efficacy of screen time regulations and interventions (Rikkers et al., 2021).


Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the multifaceted impact of screen time on cognitive functions is crucial for promoting healthy cognitive development and overall well-being, especially among children. By integrating research findings and implementing evidence-based strategies, educators, parents, and policymakers can effectively navigate the complexities of screen time management and foster optimal cognitive outcomes.


References:

Barr, R., Lauricella, A., Zack, E., & Calvert, S. L. (2010). Infant and early childhood exposure to adult-directed and child-directed television programming: Relations with cognitive skills at age four. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 56(1), 21-48.

Cain, N., & Gradisar, M. (2010). Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: A review. Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 735-742.

Elhai, J. D., Vasquez, J. K., Lustgarten, S. D., Levine, J. C., & Hall, B. J. (2020). Proneness to boredom mediates relationships between problematic smartphone use with depression and anxiety severity. Social Science Computer Review, 38(3), 342-355.

Fitzpatrick, C., Pagani, L. S., Barnett, T. A., & Dubow, E. (2019). Prospective associations between television viewing trajectories and depressive symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(7), 655-662.

Hutton, J. S., Dudley, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., DeWitt, T., & Holland, S. K. (2020). Associations between screen-based media use and brain white matter integrity in preschool-aged children. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(1), e193869.

Jiang, M., Smedley, L., & Scollon, C. N. (2021). Parental involvement and children’s screen time in early childhood: A cross-national analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 83(1), 161-178.

Kildare, C. A., & Middlemiss, W. (2017). Impact of parents mobile device use on parent-child interaction: A literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 579-593.

Lillard, A. S., Li, H., & Boguszewski, K. (2015). Television and children’s executive function. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 48, 219-248.

Mendoza, J. S., Pody, B. C., Lee, S., & Kim, M. (2020). Associations between physical activity and screen time with cognitive flexibility in adolescents. Child Indicators Research, 13(4), 1347-1359.

Nathanson, A. I., Aladé, F., Sharp, M. L., Rasmussen, E. E., Christy, K., & Coyne, S. M. (2014). The relation between television exposure and executive function among preschoolers. Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1497-1506.

Radesky, J. S., Weeks, H. M., Ball, R., Schaller, A., & Barr, R. (2020). Young children’s use of smartphones and tablets. Pediatrics, 146(1), e20193518.

Rikkers, W., Lawrence, D., Hafekost, J., Zubrick, S. R., & Sawyer, M. G. (2021). Insights from stakeholder consultations for the development of a national survey on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 55(3), 312-316.

Swing, E. L., Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A.,



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