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Researchers Drawing Link Between Brain Development, Screen Time

An Apple iPhone X on display during an Apple event at their main store in Chicago, Tuesday, March 27, 2018.
Associated Press
An Apple iPhone X on display during an Apple event at their main store in Chicago, Tuesday, March 27, 2018.
Researchers Drawing Link Between Brain Development, Screen Time
Researchers Drawing Link Between Brain Development, Screen Time GUEST: Kara Bagot, child and adolescent psychiatrist, UC San Diego

It's the big technology question right now is screen time bad for us and particularly is it bad for the developing brains of teens. A research team at the University of California San Diego is looking at brain scans from teens and then drawing connections with their amount of screen time. Dr. Kara Baggot a child and adolescent psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of California San Diego has been heading up this research and joins us to talk about what research is revealing and what scientists are still looking to find out. Dr. Bagot thanks for joining us. Yes no thank you for having me. So tell me about this study. Who's the focus and why right now. Dr. Jacobus and I are recruiting 14 to 18 year olds that are heavy and light users of social media. We want to look at how social media essentially affects the developing brain and we're thinking about this sort of in an addictive framework. So we're also recruiting kids that are heavy marijuana users and comparing the brains of the social media users to the marijuana users. And so I mean you know it seems every generation has its technological distractions and vices. What makes screen time or social media any different to this generation than say TV radio or video games were to others. So it seems to be pervasive. So in previous generations you would come home after school and then watch TV. Kids can access social media continuously through the day night weekend holiday all the time. And there are also social interaction. So when we think about sort of TV watching or listening to the radio there's not a back and forth. So kids can post something on social media and get a response from it. And so we actually think it's the response that's actually what's hooking these kids into continuous and repeated use of social media. Do you suspect based on the research that you've seen so far that screen time and even social media may impact the development of the brain in teens. It can. So we know that the brain is really plastic so development really speeds up during adolescence and the brain really continues to develop until we're in our early to mid 20s. And so we know environmental stimuli can sort of effect that development. And when we think about it time social media use all of that is environmental stimuli and so it can change sort of the connections between different parts of the brain as well as potentially sort of change the structure of the brain as well. So in what ways are there changes so some of the research at least in social media from some groups in at Temple University and UCLA show different activation patterns so basically different parts of the brain lighting up in response to viewing your own social media post and the number of likes that you get in response to that post. Right so that you feel more rewarded when people like the things that you're posting online. So it's almost like kids are getting a high off of social media sort of. And so that's where our research is going. So we want to see what that high is and if it's like using drugs essentially do you think it could be impacting the way that teens learn or the ability to pay attention or things like that potentially. And so that's what's really nice about this longitudinal Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development study is that we'll be able to answer questions like that to see if social media and screen time in general does impact things like learning cognition executive functioning and there some some research that's coming out of ABC. Now that seems to suggest that there is some impact on that. But right now just cross-sectional so we don't we don't have a good idea. OK. And so then as a parent. Yes. Would you limit the use of screens and screen time for your own kids. Yes. So I do for my own kids. My kids are quite young. I have two sons and only my older son is allowed to watch videos. And I think that honestly starting look to look at the teenage brain we're we're a little bit late. It's really important to start looking at children and how it affects their brain how it affects their behaviors. And I give I give a lot of talks and words really by the time parents bring their kid to me as a child and adolescent psychiatry is really sort of missed the boat. Pediatricians need to be talking to families early on before kids start getting their first smartphone's about responsible use of these digital technologies and how parents can sort of regulate those that use for their own kids. Well so since we are sort of in the infancy of research and studies then how do we know what's responsible use what's a healthy balance for a child or an adolescent to have when it comes to screen I think the key. Like you said is balance. So I don't think that screentime should take the place of other activities right. So kids should still be going outside they should be playing sports. They should be interacting with other kids their age. They should be engaged in their academic work. I talked to a lot of kids who at school have their headphones in and are watching YouTube during the school day when you're at school you should be doing schoolwork when you're with your friends. You should be interacting with your friends not looking down and posting that you're with your friends while you're with your friends. Things like that. And finally how are you all finding subjects to study for your research and are you looking for more teens to study. Yes yes we definitely are. So we recruit from high schools and we recruit undergraduates from UCSD and Estia you as well. And so just kids in the community that are interested in learning more about themselves and contributing to science how can they reach out so they can always reach me at my email addresses. All right well I've been speaking with Dr. Kara Bagot a child and adolescent psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Baggot thank you so much. Thank you.

It’s the big technology question right now. Is screen time bad for us, and particularly, is it bad for the developing brains of teens?

A research team, based at the University of California, San Diego is working to find out. They are researching the brains of teens and then looking at connections with the children’s amount of screen time. Early research with pre-teens shows there are links between attention deficit, addiction and screen time.

RELATED: SDSU Professor On How Smartphones Have Changed Teens

Kara Bagot is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at UCSD. She’s been heading up ongoing research at the university and joined Midday Edition to talk about what research is revealing and what they are still learning.