About 1/3 of youth spend more than four hours/day engaged in screen media activity (SMA). This investigation utilized longitudinal brain imaging and mediation analyses to examine relationships among SMA, brain patterns, and internalizing problems.
Data from Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) participants with baseline and two-year follow-up structural imaging data that passed quality control (N = 5,166; 2,385 girls) were analyzed. Joint and Individual Variation Explained (JIVE) identified a brain co-development pattern among 221 brain features (i.e., differences in surface area, thickness, or cortical and subcortical gray-matter volume between baseline and two-year-follow-up data). Generalized linear mixed-effect models investigated associations between baseline SMA, structural co-development and internalizing and externalizing psychopathology at two-year follow-up.
SMA at baseline was related to internalizing psychopathology at year 2 () and a structural co-development pattern (), where the co-development pattern suggested that rates of change in gray-matter volumes of the brainstem, gray-matter volumes and/or cortical thickness measures of bilateral superior frontal, rostral middle frontal, inferior parietal, and inferior temporal regions were more similar than those in other regions. This component partially mediated the relationship between baseline SMA and future internalizing problems (indirect effect = 0.020, P-value = 0.043, proportion mediated: 2.24%).
Discussion and conclusions
Greater youth engagement in SMA at ages 9–10 years statistically predicted higher levels of internalizing two years later. This association was mediated by cortical-brainstem circuitry, albeit with relatively small effect sizes. The findings may help delineate processes contributing to internalizing behaviors and assist in identifying individuals at greater risk for such problems.
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.