¿Qué impacto tiene en el cerebro adolescente pasar demasiado tiempo frente al móvil?

What Is the Impact of an Excessive Mobile Screen Time on the Adolescent Brain?

11.1.2023
adolescente móviles

Mobile telephone use has become increasingly prevalent among adolescents and is arguably a central part of their lives. Excessive screen time can encourage unhealthy habits such as sedentary behaviours, nutritional deficiencies due to an unhealthy diet, and disrupted sleep patterns. This can eventually lead to the development of chronic diseases that place a heavy burden on the individual and society.

 

 

The maximum recommended screen time for young people is currently two hours per day. Nevertheless, the vast majority of adolescents (70%-80%) exceed the recommended limit for recreational screen time (data from USA and Spain). It is estimated that adolescents spend approximately four hours per day on leisure-time screen-based sedentary behaviours, which is alarming considering the potential long-term health effects of these behaviours. Furthermore, the growing use of these devices has raised concerns about how exposure patterns may impact the mental health and well-being of adolescents. These concerns are especially significant given that the nervous systems of adolescents are still in development, making them particularly susceptible to exposure.

There is sufficient evidence of an association between smartphone use, the need for constant stimulation and deficits in everyday cognitive functioning to begin to raise concerns among health and education authorities

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that excessive use of smartphones is associated with impaired cognitive function and mental health problems in children, adolescents and young adults. Excessive smartphone use appears to be linked to the same underlying mechanisms as other addictive behaviours. In particular, it may lead to diminished cognitive control and impairment of the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in higher cognitive functions such as attention, decision-making and emotional processing, as well as a decrease in the ability to experience pleasure in everyday life. Indeed, several recent studies have found that more frequent use of mobile telephones in this population (aged 5-21 years) predicts a higher incidence of depressive symptoms and anxiety, as well as increased hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, in addition to behavioural problems (Lissak, Babic et al., Zinc et al., Girela-Serrano et al.).

 

 

Concerns are especially significant given that the nervous systems of adolescents are still in development, making them particularly susceptible to exposure

As noted above, children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to exposure to external factors (such as screen use and diet), as their brains are still developing. During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant structural and functional changes. A refinement of brain connectivity and complex behaviours also takes place during this period. The high level of interest in the adolescent brain has to do with the development of the prefrontal cortex, which does not reach maturity until 18-20 years⁠—the age at which higher cognitive functions regulated by this part of the brain become fully developed.

 

 

For all these reasons, researchers from ISGlobal and the NeuroÈpia group at the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV) decided to conduct a preliminary study to examine the association between exposure to mobile telephone screens and cognitive health through a pre-defined cohort from the WALNUTs project, which focused on the adolescent population (aged 11-16 years). Our study analysed data on mobile screen exposure time collected via questionnaires at several high schools in Barcelona, as well as data on participants’ cognitive function collected through various neuropsychological tests, specifically attention, working memory and inductive reasoning tests.

We observed that as little as 20 minutes of exposure per day may have detrimental effects on the attentional function in students, suggesting that perhaps the current guidelines should be reconsidered

Overall, our findings suggest that screen exposure may affect selective and sustained attention⁠—the ability to attend to a particular stimulus or activity in the presence of other distracting stimuli, and the ability to attend to that stimulus for an extended period of time—in healthy adolescents. Furthermore, we observed that as little as 20 minutes of exposure per day may have detrimental effects on this attentional function in students, suggesting that perhaps the current guidelines should be reconsidered.

 

 

Although further studies are needed to fully elucidate the effects of mobile screen exposure on cognitive function during adolescence, there is sufficient evidence of an association between smartphone use, the need for constant stimulation and deficits in everyday cognitive functioning to begin to raise concerns among health and education authorities.