Prof. Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus
The Educational Neuroimaging Group (ENIG) Faculty of Education in Science and Technology Faculty of Biomedical Engineering Technion
The First 2000 Critical Days of Life:
Effects of screen exposure on brain development in children 0-6 years of age
Smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices have become an inseparable part of everyday life in the developed world. Whether screen exposure has consequences on the brain development, positive or negative, is largely unknown. In adolescents and adults, preliminary reports show that screen exposure is related to physiological problems, such as diabetes, or weight gain, to psychiatric or emotional difficulties, such as addiction or anxiety, and social difficulties. Extensive development of functional and structural connectivity within the cognitive, language and emotional networks during the first years of life are the basis for cognitive abilities later in life. Therefore, screen exposure during this time frame may be of utmost long-term importance (see Figure 1).
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
Exploratory studies conducted in our laboratory demonstrated the relationship between screen time and brain development related to language and cognitive abilities in children 3-5 years of age. Increased screen time was associated with the decreased structural organization of white matter tracts5 and decreased functional connectivity between language, visual, and cognitive regions6. These networks rely on the intact development of attention capabilities. Therefore we conducted a series of studies examining the relationship between screen exposure and attention.
Children who listened to screen-based stories were compared to children exposed to human storytelling and showed a higher beta/theta ratio on EEG, linked to an attention-deficit-like pattern8. We then developed an innovative Child-Parent brain Synchronization System (CHIPS) that includes two synchronized EEG systems for the simultaneous recording of parent-child interactions. Using this system, we have demonstrated that collaborative storytelling is related to increased brain synchronisation compared with the pattern obtained during listening to a story presented on a screen (Figure 2).
To date, there are no studies that examine the effect of screen exposure (time and type) on the very young brain at the mechanistic level. In this proposal, I aim to assess the impact of screen exposure on brain development longitudinally from birth to 6 years of age. In other words, “It is time for the human Screenome project”, or, more accurately, the child screenome project.
We suggest expanding our existing CHIPS system by adding a unique wearable sensor system to track screen-and-language exposure. Data from this device will be correlated with the child’s brain activity using EEG and with child-parent synchronization patterns using deep learning algorithms. To this end, we will combine the PI background in Biology, Cognitive Electrophysiology, and Educational Neuroimaging with artificial intelligence tools developed in my lab. The results of our study will, for the first time, provide neurobiological evidence regarding the effect of screen exposure on attention abilities in young children.
The current project will address a major knowledge gap related to the effect of screen exposure on brain development in the critical first 2000 days of life. The results of this project will, for the first time, provide neurobiological evidence for the effect of screen exposure on brain development, focusing on critical attention abilities. In the future, our wearable device could be designed to notify parents about excessive screen exposure and lack of direct parent-child communication in real-time.
Prof. Horowitz-Kraus leads the Educational Neuroimaging Group in the Faculty of Education in Sciences and Technology at the Technion (https://neuroimaging-center.technion.ac.il/). She has initiated and developed the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, and the Reading Remediation Research Program (R3P) at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Trained in biology and neurobiology, Prof. Horowitz-Kraus received her Ph.D. in Brain Sciences of Learning Disabilities from the University of Haifa in 2008. She has received several professional awards (e.g., Jacobs Foundation, Fulbright Scholarship, Trustee awards, Alon, and others) and has authored over 90 peer-reviewed publications, for most of which she is the first or senior author. Prof. Horowitz-Kraus has been awarded a $3.2M NIH grant to investigate the underlying neural circuits related to cognitive control in reading difficulties as well as additional competitive (DFG, Germany), National (Ministry of Education), foundations (JOY, Waterloo, Mind and Life, etc) grants.. Her career has been fully devoted to studying the neural circuits underlying normal and atypical development in children, with a primary focus on identifying risk and protective factors of language and reading development that can be modulated to prevent the existence of language/reading difficulties in children.
- Revealing the effects of parental and child screen exposure along development
- A product that tracks and informs families of screen time and language stimulation
- Will promote guidelines for physicians, educators and professionals