The integration of screens into our daily lives has become seamless, serving various purposes such as work, education, and leisure. However, the potential impact of screen time on our cognitive abilities is often overlooked. A recent meta-analysis of previous studies has revealed a clear link between disordered screen use and lower cognitive functioning.
These findings suggest that we should exercise caution before advocating for more screen time or introducing screens into more aspects of daily life. The increase in screen time among young people is particularly concerning. A report by the UNSW Gonski Institute for Education found that 84% of Australian educators believe digital technologies are distracting in a learning environment. Excessive screen time was also identified as the second-most significant challenge for young people in a recent Beyond Blue survey of Australian teachers.
Despite these concerns, over half of Australian schools have implemented a “bring your own device” policy, leading to increased screen time for students at younger ages. A report by Common Sense Media estimated that tweens spend an average of 5 hours and 33 minutes on screen-based entertainment each day, while teenagers spend a staggering 8 hours and 39 minutes.
The surge in screen use has also resulted in screen-related addictions, such as gaming disorder, which affects 2-3% of the population. The impact of screens on cognitive abilities has sparked debates, with some claiming negative effects such as health problems and hindered development, while others argue that technology can enhance problem-solving and memory skills.
A recent study aimed to understand the cognitive consequences of “disordered screen-related behaviors,” including screen dependency and persisting with harmful screen use. The study conducted a meta-analysis of 34 studies that explored various forms of screen use and compared the cognitive performance of individuals with disordered screen use to those without it. The findings consistently showed that individuals with disordered screen use had significantly poorer cognitive performance, particularly in attention and executive functioning.
There are two possible explanations for these results. One is that disordered screen use leads to poorer cognitive function, possibly due to constant exposure to attention-capturing algorithms and features. The other explanation is that individuals with existing cognitive impairments are more likely to engage in disordered screen use, influenced by addictive cues designed to keep them glued to screens.
Impaired attention affects everyday tasks and makes it harder to disengage from addictive behaviors. People with weakened attention may turn to screens as a result. Similarly, individuals with less inhibitory control may struggle to moderate their screen use, leading to problematic screen-related behaviors.
Responsibility for addressing this issue lies with both individuals and tech companies. People with impaired cognitive functioning may struggle to moderate their own screen time, and certain demographics, such as young males engaged in internet gaming and females engaged in social media use, are at greater risk. Tech companies are driven by capturing attention, and researchers need open-access data policies to further study the effects of screen use.
In conclusion, the link between disordered screen use and lower cognitive functioning emphasizes the need for caution when advocating for more screen time. The increase in screen time among young people is a significant concern, and both individuals and tech companies must take responsibility for addressing this issue.