Associations between digital media use and brain surface structural measures in preschool-aged children

John S. Hutton, Jonathan Dudley, Thomas DeWitt, Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits on digital media use (“screen time”), citing cognitive-behavioral risks. Media use in early childhood is ubiquitous, though few imaging-based studies have been conducted to quantify impacts on brain development. Cortical morphology changes dynamically from infancy through adulthood and is associated with cognitive-behavioral abilities. The current study involved 52 children who completed MRI and cognitive testing at a single visit. The MRI protocol included a high-resolution T1-weighted anatomical scan. The child’s parent completed the ScreenQ composite measure of media use. MRI measures included cortical thickness (CT) and sulcal depth (SD) across the cerebrum. ScreenQ was applied as a predictor of CT and SD first in whole-brain regression analyses and then for regions of interest (ROIs) identified in a prior study of screen time involving adolescents, controlling for sex, age and maternal education. Higher ScreenQ scores were correlated with lower CT in right-lateralized occipital, parietal, temporal and fusiform areas, and also lower SD in right-lateralized inferior temporal/fusiform areas, with substantially greater statistical significance in ROI-based analyses. These areas support primary visual and higher-order processing and align with prior findings in adolescents. While differences in visual areas likely reflect maturation, those in higher-order areas may suggest under-development, though further studies are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19095
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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