Digital media exposure and cognitive functioning in European children and adolescents of the I.Family study

Elida Sina, Christoph Buck, Wolfgang Ahrens, Juul M.J. Coumans, Gabriele Eiben, Annarita Formisano, Lauren Lissner, Artur Mazur, Nathalie Michels, Dénes Molnar, Luis A. Moreno, Valeria Pala, Hermann Pohlabeln, Lucia Reisch, Michael Tornaritis, Toomas Veidebaum, Antje Hebestreit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The digital environment can pose health risks through exposure to unhealthy content. Yet, little is known about its relation to children’s cognitive functioning. This study investigates the association between digital media (DM) exposure and children’s cognitive functioning. This cross-sectional study is based on examinations of children aged 8–18 years (N = 8673) of the I.Family cohort (2013–2014). Exposure to television, computer, smartphone and internet was self-reported (hours/day). Media multitasking (MMT) was defined as simultaneous use of computers with other digital or non-screen-based activities. Standard instruments were used to assess cognitive inflexibility (score: 0–39), decision-making ability (− 100 to + 100) and impulsivity (12–48). Adjusted regression coefficients and 99.9%CIs were calculated by generalized linear mixed-effects models. In total, 3261 participants provided data for impulsivity, 3441 for cognitive inflexibility and 4046 for decision-making. Exposure to smartphones and media multitasking were positively associated with impulsivity (βsmartphone = 0.74; 99.9%CI = 0.42–1.07; βMMT = 0.73; 99.9%CI = 0.35–1.12) and cognitive inflexibility (βsmartphone = 0.32; 99.9%CI = -0.02–0.66; βMMT = 0.39; 99.9%CI = 0.01–0.77) while being inversely associated with decision-making ability. Extensive smartphone/internet exposure combined with low computer/medium TV exposure was associated with higher impulsivity and cognitive inflexibility scores, especially in girls. DM exposure is adversely associated with cognitive functioning in children and adolescents. Children require protection against the likely adverse impact of digital environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18855
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


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