Digital infants: the effect of touch screen technology on focused attention and executive function

Carr, A. (2016) Digital infants: the effect of touch screen technology on focused attention and executive function. In: 016 SRCD Special Topic Meeting: Technology and Media in Children’s Development, 27th-30th October, University of California, Irvine Conference Center in Irvine, California.

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Very young children, even toddlers, are using touch screen technologies with increasing frequency. A recent survey found that family ownership of such devices in the UK increased from 7% in 2011 to 71% in 2014 (Ofcom, 2014). However, the effect of this type of interaction on early child development is largely unknown; some have proposed increased screen time will have negative effects on development (e.g. focused attention and other executive functions, Sigman, 2015), while others see opportunities for new ways of learning and interacting (Plowman, 2015). A recent review highlighted the lack of evidence in answering these questions calling for research to offer scientifically informed guidance for policymakers, parents and teachers (Radesky, Schumacher & Zuckerman, 2015).
The poster reports two studies which examine the effects of touch screen play on young children’s focused attention and executive function development. The first study examined focused attention in a sample of 18 children (aged 10 months to 3-years old). Using a Novel Object Task a baseline measure of attention span was compared to attention after playing with toys and again after playing on a touch screen tablet. The study used a repeated measures design and counterbalanced toy versus tablet first conditions. Although there was an overall drop in attention span over the course of the one-hour lab session, there was no significant difference in attention measured after tablet versus toy play. This study suggests that playing with interactive media on tablets may not have a negative effect on children’s immediate focused attention. However, its small scale and wide developmental range warrants caution in interpreting the results and does not allow a conclusive finding to be drawn.
A follow-up study was conducted using a narrower age range (24-36 months), and examining not only focused attention, but other aspects of executive function including working memory and inhibitory control. By 24 months most infants are able to master touch screen technology allowing them to engage in meaningful interactions which makes this an ideal age to examine. In this larger study (N = 60) an independent measures design was used in which children were randomly allocated to either a tablet or a toy condition. Pre- and post-test measures of focused attention, working memory and inhibitory control again suggested little difference between tablet versus toy play. Results of both studies are discussed in relation to the immediate versus long term effects of touch screen interaction on development.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0712 Developmental psychology > BF0721 Child psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0180 Experimental psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0712 Developmental psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0076.5 Psychology research
Divisions: Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences > School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology
Depositing User: Dr Amanda Carr
Date Deposited: 05 Oct 2016 10:58
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2016 10:59

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00