How are Screens Affecting our Cognition?

Catherine Warren, 24 February 2019, Cognitive Psychology, Dr. Rettinger

As a child of the 90’s, I recognize that I am a part of the digital age. Many of us in my generation have grown up with cell phones, laptops, computers, really all screens, available at all times. While many consider this rapid technological boom as a benefit to society or as a massive increase in efficiency, I worry that we may be seriously overlooking the possible effects these screens may have on our long term cognition (or perhaps our vision, although that is not fully related to this class).

Think about it… what does your daily life look like? How often do you stare at a screen?

I wake up every morning to an alarm on my phone, where I expose my eyes to the screen for the first time that day. Usually I’ll check my messages, my snapchat, my instagram, any notifications I might have on facebook… all before I even get out of bed. Once I’m ready to leave for class I’ll usually put in my headphones and listen to music on the way. I’ll then spend the rest of my morning and afternoon staring at and frantically reading from a projector screen during class, and checking my phone or texting in between classes. When I’m done with class I use my computer to do my homework, and often watch or read something on a tv or computer screen at the end of the day to relax. There is hardly ever any downtime from screens, because I rely them for so many different parts of my life.

I’d imagine this is the same for many of my classmates. I think a debatably unfortunate truth about this generation is that when someone asks what we do all day, an honest answer is “stared at screens.”

Even when I’m trying to be extra conscious of my daily blue light exposure, my average screen-time is typically over 5 hours a day.

Given all of this, I can’t help but wonder how these screens are going to affect our processing in the long term. We are the first generation with truly constant exposure to blue-lighted screens and instant tech gratification, and it seems like there is no telling what how this can affect cognition in the long-term.

It’s easy to say, “well, all this technology is ruining our youth,” or “all this screen exposure is going to ruin our eyes” (which truthfully I am worried about). However, the seemingly more involved question to explore is “will technology change the way we process?”

We know humans are evolutionary beings. Considering this, is it outlandish to hypothesize that our high speed internet and quick access to, well anything, online will decrease our attention span and problem solving skills?

I want to propose a study intended to test the problem solving skills of two groups: an experimental condition (constant screen exposure +/-5 hours a day) and a control condition (+/-1 hour a day) in which the groups are given a task to challenge information processing and problem solving. For example, this task could be solving a walking maze.

A task like this involves the central executive which sets goals, chooses strategies, and directs the functions of many of our cognitive processes. My study could take place over a ten-year period to analyze the effects of screen use on cognition via problem solving speed.

1 thought on “How are Screens Affecting our Cognition?

  1. sspitzer

    The title of this post “How are screens affecting our Cognition”, really caught my attention because I often ask myself the same question. Our daily routines are very much the same. I can truly say that I have created such an awful habit of making my cell phone my alarm clock, after hitting “stop” I then proceed to check each app: text messages, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all before my feet hit the floor. From my first blog, I learned that viewing a screen in the dark has a much greater affect then viewing a screen in the light before bed- which was very shocking to me! Like you already stated, I too need to be more conscious of my exposure to blue light daily as my screen time is probably right around five hours too- sad, but true! Thanks for sharing!

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