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The Science Behind the Impacts of Technology Use

You’ve heard various reports on the impacts that technology can have on our brains. If you’re a parent who likes to understand how things work, you may have wondered: who studies these effects? How exactly does using technology change how we think, and is that good or bad? Some of the disciplines used to study human interactions with technology include cognitive psychology as well as clinical and behavioral neuroscience. Here’s the brain science behind what screen time does to our mental processes—for better and for worse.

  • Can help us do more or hinder our focus. Frequent distractions can, in the short term, help us to become better multitaskers. In the long term, however, the constant texts, alerts, calls, emails, and notifications we receive on our phones have been shown to diminish the human ability to focus. Tech-based distractions have even been strongly linked with ADHD. You can mitigate this by spending time away from your phone and by turning off almost all notifications (try using airplane mode to avoid temptation).

  • Can wear out the brain’s pleasure centers. Current technology is geared toward sending almost endless content and input into our brains. Things we enjoy watching and listening to stimulate the pleasure centers in our brain (ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and basal ganglia), which release dopamine. This can make for a great mood booster when we’re having a bad day, but overuse can also cause us to take less pleasure in non-tech-related daily activities.

  • Can impair social and emotional development. Childhood and the teenage years are the times when we learn who we are and how to function in society. For today’s kids and teens, social media allows for human interaction when they are physically separated from others, which had the potential to be helpful during pandemic lockdowns. But because social media rewards attention-seeking and knee-jerk reactions, overuse can in fact lead to social isolation as well as depression and anxiety.

  • Can disrupt sleep patterns. Reading a good book or playing a relaxing game before bed can be helpfully sleep-inducing. But so is the pineal gland in your brain, which releases melatonin in response to nighttime darkness. The blue light-emitting screens on tech devices suppress this process, delaying your sleep and preventing you from entering the deep REM sleep your brain needs to function. Put screens away before bed, or turn on the blue light filter in your device settings.

Teach Kids Healthy Tech Use With Net Positive

The mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens and leaders. We accomplish this by providing evidence-based programs with a focus on those that improve academic engagement, build character, and that improve healthy behaviors.

Our Net Positive Program educates K-12 students about digital safety, health, citizenship and leadership. After participating in our program, students are 97% better prepared to face internet dangers. Contact us to learn more and ask your school to schedule a Net Positive Presentation, or support us with your donation today!

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