Longitudinal touchscreen use across early development is associated with faster exogenous and reduced endogenous attention control

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Abstract

Childhood screen time is associated with both attentional difficulties (for television viewing) and benefits (in action video gamers), but few studies have investigated today’s pervasive touchscreen devices (e.g. smartphones and tablets), which combine salient features, interactive content, and accessibility from toddlerhood (a peak period of cognitive development). We tested exogenous and endogenous attention, following forty children who were stable high (HU) or low (LU) touchscreen users from toddlerhood to pre-school. HUs were slower to disengage attention, relative to their faster baseline orienting ability. In an infant anti-saccade task, HUs displayed more of a corrective strategy of orienting faster to distractors before anticipating the target. Results suggest that long-term high exposure to touchscreen devices is associated with faster exogenous attention and concomitant decreases in endogenous attention control. Future work is required to demonstrate causality, dissociate variants of use, and investigate how attention behaviours found in screen-based contexts translate to real-world settings.

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Portugal, A. M., Bedford, R., Cheung, C. H. M., Mason, L., & Smith, T. J. (2021). Longitudinal touchscreen use across early development is associated with faster exogenous and reduced endogenous attention control. Scientific Reports, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81775-7

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