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Friday, October 27 2023
Press release

Screens and adolescents: different impacts on behavior and mental health

MONTRÉAL, October 27, 2023 - Increased digital media use by adolescents is associated with changes in their behaviors, such as aggressive behavior and impulsivity, but this impact differs depending on the type of media and content, according to two new studies by CHU Sainte-Justine researcher and Université de Montréal Professor Patricia Conrod. Using longitudinal data from a cohort of 3,800 adolescents from 31 high schools of the Greater Montreal area followed annually over a period of 5 years from Grade 7 until Grade 11, these studies show that social media use is associated to enduring negative effects on both aggressivity and impulsivity, while other media seem to have only short-time negative effects.

Social media: an enduring negative impact

Through a statistical longitudinal modelling, the first study shows that a greater use of social media, video games and computer activities is associated with short-term increases in aggressive behaviors. However, social media use further shows a lasting association with antisocial behaviors, such as conduct problems. On the opposite, television viewing is associated with promoting prosocial behaviors, with a decrease in hostile thoughts over time.

“These findings suggest that editorially reviewed digital content, such as television content, may have a protective effect on your aggressive behaviors”, explains Pr. Conrod.

In a second study, Pr. Conrod and her team found an important relationship between social media use, television watching and video gaming and ADHD symptoms, further explained by impulsive behavior. This means that these types of screen time make teenagers more impulsive and consequently increase ADHD-type symptoms. Again, this relationship was found to last over time only in the case of social media use, highlighting an enduring influence on teen’s behavior. Furthermore, this unique study was able to explain this enduring relationship through effects on neuropsychological measure of cognitive control. 

“Overall, these findings suggest that screen time, and particularly social media use, can be evaluated and targeted by clinicians during therapies to reduce behavioral and mental health problems in adolescents”, adds Jasmina Wallace, a postdoctoral research trainee who co-authored these studies with Dr. Conrod.

Why are social media more harmful?

“Social media, unlike other types of screen time, convey messages and content shared among peers, consequently reinforcing social norms in young people”, explains Patricia Conrod. “What's more, this content, which is often not subject to review, lacks a complex narrative and involves the rapid scrolling of short information (short videos, images, posts, …), requiring the application of limited cognitive control.”

Therefore, to limit the harmful effects social media can have on adolescents, as these two studies propose, researcher Conrod stresses the importance of social media companies working with scientific researchers to further investigate the functioning and psychological consequences of the algorithm applied by platforms to present targeted content. Only through this close collaboration, it will be possible to find solutions to limit harmful effects of social media on young people's behaviors and mental health.

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CHU Sainte-Justine

Media Contact:
Geneviève Martel
Advisor - Media Relations and External Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine
514 345-7707

Persons mentioned in the text
About these studies

The first study « A Population-Based Analysis of the Temporal Association of Screen Time and Aggressive Behaviors in Adolescents » was published on August 23, 2023 in JAACAP Open, an online journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The second study « Screen time, impulsivity, neuropsychological functions and their relationship to growth in adolescent Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms » was published on October 23, 2023 in Scientific Reports.

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Updated on 10/27/2023
Created on 10/27/2023
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