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).
Current Research Assistants
Hamish Cloke (University of Surrey)
Megan Tongs (University of Surrey)
Past Research Assistants
Bailey Wristen (University of Colorado Boulder)*
Elenamaria Minniti (UC Davis)*
Huda Omar (University of Minnesota)*
Julia Tager (UMass Amherst)*
*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)