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According to a recent survey, family ownership of touchscreens has increased from 7% in 2011 to 71% in 2014 (OfCom, 2014). This is a huge change in a child's early media environment and as Developmental Scientists it made us wonder how early exposure to such devices might influence the way our children are developing. Currently there is very little scientific research investigating this topic. This project is the first attempt to fill this gap.

In the Leverhulme and Wellcome Trust-funded* TABLET (Toddler Attentional Behaviours and LEarning with Touchscreens) project** we are studying how 6 month to 3 year old infants are using touchscreen devices and how this use (or lack of use) is influencing their cognitive, brain and social development. The project takes place both on-line, via short questionnaires and at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (otherwise known as the ‘Babylab’) at Birkbeck, University of London, a pioneering research centre that uses cutting-edge neuroscientific methods to investigate infant development.

Families around the world have participated via a series of on-line questionnaires. For those living around London, we have also run a follow-on study at the Babylab that is providing us with a detailed insight into their child's cognitive and brain development. The eventual aim of the TABLET project is to provide an evidence base for parents, policy makers and scientists to better understand the relationship between how the current generation is developing in their media environment and inform future guidelines for what may constitute appropriate use of touchscreen devices.

Findings to date indicate a mixed picture of benefits and difficulties associated with touchscreen use. We found, for example, a positive relationship between age when first actively scrolling a touchscreen and achieving the fine motor milestone ‘stacking blocks’ (Bedford et al., 2016). However, a high frequency of use was associated with sleep problems (Cheung et al., 2017). We are currently following up these findings with neurocognitive lab assessments including EEG and eye tracking, to try to identify the mechanisms underlying these effects.

*The TABLET project is funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize from the Leverhulme Trust awarded to Dr. Tim Smith and a Wellcome Trust Provision for Public Engagement awarded to Dr. Rachael Bedford.

**The TABLET project has received ethical approval from the Birkbeck, Psychological Sciences ethics committee (Ref 141570).




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Current Research Assistants

Hamish Cloke (University of Surrey)

Megan Tongs (University of Surrey)

Past Research Assistants

Abby Hendrick*

Bailey Wristen (University of Colorado Boulder)*

Chasity Ricker*

Elenamaria Minniti (UC Davis)*

Huda Omar (University of Minnesota)*

Julia Tager (UMass Amherst)*

Kylie Hillock*

Clare Hansen*

*CAPA Placement Intern

Past MSc Students

Cathy Rogers (MSc Educational Neuroscience)

Shaili Shah (MSc)

Zuber Mohamed (MSc)

Past BSc Students

Hannah Downing (BSc Psychology)

Mariam Saeedi (BSc Psychology)

Meet the Team
Talks & Publications


  • Publications
    Portugal, Anna Maria and Bedford, Rachael and Cheung, Celeste and Mason, Luke and Smith, Tim J. (2021) Longitudinal touchscreen use across early development is associated with faster exogenous and reduced endogenous attention control. Scientific Reports 11 (2205), ISSN 2045-2322. Portugal, A.M*., Bedford, R.*, Cheung, C.H.M., Gliga, T., Smith, T.J. (2020) Saliency-Driven Visual Search Performance in Toddlers With Low– vs High–Touch Screen Use. JAMA Pediatr. . doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.2344 (*joint first authors) Cheung, C. H., Bedford, R, de Urabin, I. R. S., Karmiloff-Smith, A., & Smith, T. J. (2017). Daily touchscreen use in infants and toddlers is associated with reduced sleep and delayed sleep onset. Scientific Reports, 7 Bedford, R., de Urabain, I. R. S., Cheung, C. H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., & Smith, T. J. (2016). Toddlers’ fine motor milestone achievement is associated with early touchscreen scrolling. Frontiers in Psychology, 7 Portugal, Anna Maria and Bedford, Rachael and Cheung, Celeste and Mason, Luke and Smith, Tim J. (2021) Longitudinal touchscreen use across early development is associated with faster exogenous and reduced endogenous attention control. Scientific Reports 11 (2205), ISSN 2045-2322.
  • Upcoming Talks
    No upcoming talks at present...
  • Past Talks
    Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, St. Pete, Florida, USA, May 17-22 2019 Talk at the CBCD Seminar Series, London, March 5 2019 Talk at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, January 21 2019 Digital Media and Developing Minds 2nd National Congress at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, New York, USA, October 15-18 2018 Family event at the Science of Screen Time Science Day in Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, London, July 24 2018 Talk at the International Congress of Infant Studies, S9.8 Flash talk session 10: Babies and screens, Philadelphia, USA, July 3 2018 (14-15:30) Informal discussion and poster at the Techtopia Festival in Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, London, May 24 - June 3 2018 Talk at the Center for Children, Relationships, and Culture at the University of Maryland, USA, May 29 2018 Talk at the CBCD Seminar Series, London, 24 April 2018 Poster presentation, European Conference on Visual Perception, Berlin, Germany. August 2017 Poster presentation, 23rd Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference, Massachusetts, USA, April 28 2017 Paper Symposium on Media and Self-Regulation: Research and Implications for Policy and Practice, SRCD Biennial Meeting, Austin, Texas, USA, April 6 - 8 2017 Talk at the 4th EUNETHYDIS International Conference on ADHD, Berlin, Germany, October 19 2016 Symposium on Growing up in a Multisensory World, BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Belfast, Northern Ireland, September 14 2016 Talk at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Annual Alliance Member Event, London, June 10 2016
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