How Internet addiction could be affecting teenagers’ brains


Researchers found that signalling between brain regions was altered in teenagers with internet addiction. — AFP Relaxnews

The impact of screen time on children is being closely studied by a host of experts around the world, with the aim of raising awareness among governments – and parents – of the importance of limiting exposure to such devices.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers based in the UK has assessed the effects of Internet addiction on teenagers’ brains. They report that this type of addiction could significantly affect some of their intellectual capacities, and more broadly, their mental health.

From sleep to body mass index to mental health, over the past few years, one scientific study after another has attempted to determine the effects of screen time, and on children and teenagers in particular.

While most of these studies highlight harmful effects, others are more nuanced, making it difficult to implement specific actions to regulate screen time for these young users. New research by scientists at University College London (UCL) focuses not on screens but on Internet use, and more specifically, on Internet addiction, which may affect teenagers’ brains.

For the purposes of this research, the two principal investigators, Max Chang and Irene Lee, analysed 12 neuroimaging studies of teenagers with Internet addiction. The aim was to observe the brain and any changes induced by this addiction, and more specifically, changes in connectivity between brain networks that play an important role in behavior.

Published in the journal PLOS Mental Health, the analysis of these studies suggests a disturbance in signalling in brain regions involved in neural networks in Internet-addicted adolescents. In particular, this disruption was observed when performing activities controlled by the brain's “executive control network” (ie, behaviours involving attention, planning, decision-making and impulsivity) in Internet-addicted adolescents compared to participants who did not have this addiction.

“Understanding how and where Internet addiction affects the functional connectivity in the brains of adolescents, as well as replicating fMRI studies with multiple populations can guide future global therapeutic and public health interventions,” the researchers conclude in a news release.

However, the academics themselves qualify their findings, stating that “the present answers merely paint an unfinished picture that does not necessarily depict Internet usage as overwhelmingly positive or negative”.

They believe that further studies on a larger sample of participants are now needed “to confirm how Internet addiction changes the way in which the brain controls behaviors and therefore our general well-being”. – AFP Relaxnews

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