Screen media activity (SMA) may impact neurodevelopment in youth. Cross-sectionally, SMA has been linked to brain structural patterns including cortical thinning in children. However, it remains unclear whether specific brain structural co-variation patterns are related to SMA and other clinically relevant measures such as psychopathology, cognition and sleep in children.
Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) participants with useable baseline structural imaging (N = 10,691; 5,107 girls) were analyzed. We first used the Joint and Individual Variation Explained (JIVE) approach to identify cortical and subcortical covariation pattern(s) among a set of 221 brain features (i.e., surface area, thickness, or cortical and subcortical gray matter (GM) volumes). Then, the identified structural covariation pattern was used as a predictor in linear mixed-effect models to investigate its associations with SMA, psychopathology, and cognitive and sleep measures.
A thalamus-prefrontal cortex (PFC)-brainstem structural co-variation pattern (circuit) was identified. The pattern suggests brainstem and bilateral thalamus proper GM volumes covary more strongly with GM volume and/or surface area in bilateral superior frontal gyral, rostral middle frontal, inferior parietal, and inferior temporal regions. This covariation pattern highly resembled one previously linked to alcohol use initiation prior to adulthood and was consistent in girls and boys. Subsequent regression analyses showed that this co-variation pattern associated with SMA (β = 0.107, P = 0.002) and externalizing psychopathology (β = 0.117, P = 0.002), respectively.
Discussion and Conclusions
Findings linking SMA-related structural covariation to externalizing psychopathology in youth resonate with prior studies of alcohol-use initiation and suggest a potential neurodevelopmental mechanism underlying addiction vulnerability.