(Montreal) Time spent on a screen is directly associated with an exacerbation of symptoms of attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD) in adolescents, concludes a study led by a researcher from CHU Sainte-Justine.

The association is particularly important if the young person spends time on social media, television or video games; no association was found with simple computer use.

The results, the authors write, “demonstrated a significant common vulnerability between higher levels of these types of screen time and general vulnerability to ADHD symptoms.”

“The primary goal of this research was to check if a young person, regardless of their level of ADHD, increases their consumption of a certain type of digital media, will we observe even more symptoms (of ADHD) in the following year or in the longer term,” explained the study’s lead author, Professor Patricia Conrod.

“And we demonstrated this variance over time at the individual level: if the individual changes their behavior, we’re going to see a change in their mental state related to social media consumption. »

This data comes from the study of some 4,000 young people over five years.

Social media use had a longer-term effect that was more consistent with a “causal hypothesis,” Conrod added, since the increase in screen time occurred before there was an increase in ADHD symptoms. .

The use of screens seemed to have a particularly marked impact on the impulsivity of young people.

“Heavy social media users showed the strongest effect on ADHD symptoms through impulsive behavior, compared to their peers,” we read in Scientific Reports.

Professor Conrod and her team asked their young subjects to participate in a test during which they had to press, or not, a button depending on the number presented on the screen. The test was designed to create a certain “habit” in the young person, so as to be able to measure their impulsivity and their ability to control themselves when a sudden change occurred.

It’s well documented that this ability develops in young people between the ages of 12 and 17, Ms. Conrod said, “but it’s a process that also plays a big role in the risk of addiction, ADHD and other mental and behavioral disorders.”

“We demonstrated that it is through the effect on this cognitive process that social media has this effect on ADHD,” she added.

It therefore seems, say the authors of the study, to exist a common vulnerability between intensive use of screens and a neurocognitive risk of ADHD symptoms in adolescents.

It is possible, they continue, that young people who are vulnerable to ADHD are attracted to digital networks that offer them stimulating content that can be consumed with a minimum of concentration and effort.

“The problem with social media is that it’s fast-paced simulation that involves very little interaction with the content and very little cognitive effort to interact,” Ms. Conrod said. And particularly social media: you look, you say “like or not like”, and that’s it. So I believe that there are a lot of activities that counter the development of this cognitive process which is necessary for the development of a mature and well-controlled brain. »

The researcher hopes that these results will encourage the Canadian government to act to better regulate the various social media platforms and the access they offer to young people, as is the case in other countries.

“There is nothing being done in Canada at the moment, but it is important to protect young people from the harms of social networks,” she said in conclusion.

The findings of this study were published by the journal Scientific Reports.