Brain Structure and Function Compromised by Screen Time
Matters of Great Consequence: Gray Matter, White Matter and Technology at the helm of “education” and labor.
Whether constructing a house, a highway, a Constitution, or a brain, one must pay particular attention to how one builds and who does the building.
Shades of Gray…and White.
The Brain is basically comprised of two types of cells: Neurons and glial cells. The Gray matter is comprised of the neurons, the cortex. The White matter is the glial cells; the cells that provide insulation (speeding conduction), nutrition and cleanup duties, and assist with processing functions of the Neurons.
While technology has been beneficial in providing imaging of gray matter and white matter, (including fancy names to describe these imaging techniques), what the images reveal is pretty common sense shocking.
You don’t grow oak trees or brains by placing them in a flood plain.
In the past, the gray matter stole the show; somewhat like the bark, the leaves, or the flowers of a tree.
Yet, every gardener or farmer knows, it’s the root structure, the highway inside the plant, that determines if the plant will flourish, weather the storm, the heat, bear fruit or collapse succumbing to disease and drought.
The future of the plant and its fruitfulness is determined by the integrity of the roots, stems, and vascular support systems. This would be the White matter of the Brain.
Just as roots don’t grow deeply in a flood plain, you don’t grow any length of dendrites or wholesome white matter in a flood plain of instant visual imagery, and immediate gratification. In order to grow dendrites there must be a reaching, ruminating and forming relationships with other regions of the brain.
Researchers today are unfolding a devastating disease affecting the brain construction of human beings due to:
Technology driven Digital media, Virtual classrooms, internet “learning”, i-pads, laptops, smart phones, gaming and a host of other screen times.
While video gaming addictions, texting disorders, and Internet Addiction Disorders (IAD) make their way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Manual V (DSM-V), one must ask:
Will an entire National Education and Workforce Development scheme, College and Career Ready 21st Century Competencies, also be listed in the manual’s next version?
The average child today spends more than 7 hours per day on “screen time.” More if they’re in an i-pad, virtual on-line, or combination of paperless, digital media version of “school”. Nationalized Education reforms and “workforce development” are pushing even more screen time, Internet use, and digital media, embedded formative assessment gaming; not to mention incessant data collection and behavior modification.
Before parents and citizenry place themselves and their heirs on the conveyor belt, they ought to be apprised of the realities of what Screen time is doing to human brain development.
Both structural and functional compromise is occurring in the digitally designed brains of today.
Gray matter and white matter atrophy. Atrophy means shrinkage or loss of tissue. This is happening in areas that would be used for processing, executive function, decision-making, planning, prioritizing, organizing, emotional control, empathy, inhibition and initiation, (control of impulsivity).
Evidence is demonstrating 20 % loss of both gray and white matter, and a marked decrease in cortical thickness readings of the frontal lobes: The area of Executive Function ie. Thinking.
Shoddy Construction of White Matter, short paths and dead ends. The structural integrity of the White Matter is being compromised. The White matter not only provides the myelin coating that insulates the neuronal axons and dendrites speeding conduction; but it also provides nutrients, aids in processing and structural support.
Research reveals decreased functional connectivity between lobes and regions of the brain.
It is as if you need to get to a distant location and the highways, bridges and interstates are non-existent. Research is revealing that adolescents who spend significant amounts of “screen time” such as the “average” 7 hours per day, are less efficient in information processing, lowered cognitive (thinking) control and pretty much all of those behavioral, morality, and personal relational protocols.
These interrupted, misconnected, non-existent, or compromised connections contribute to erratic behaviors, misreads, and short circuits in the brain manifesting in moodiness, impulsivity, poor sleep, decreased attention span, poor reasoning, and poor social skills.
Cravings and more drownings. Instant gratification and visuals, from screen time, gaming, formative assessments, e-learning, text messaging, instant messaging, digital media results in a hit of dopamine, which “feels good”…so the desire is for MORE! It’s what Pavlov was doing with his dogs, and Skinner with his Teaching machines.
Combined with the stress or anxiety of not getting a digital fix there is the added chemical surge of cortisol, which is produced under periods of stress. It has long been documented that cortisol on the brain is like bleach on the brain.
All that to say, hours of screen time is not healthy for brains: Existing brains or particularly developing brains.
Neurons grow by personal interaction, in real-time face to face mentoring, employing a multitude of sensory and motor systems, intrinsically motivated and mediated by a mentor who knows this child; a mentor who will answer for the results of the brain, values, attitudes and cognition being developed; and by challenge.
Challenge must be placed at just the right distance for the Reach necessary for dendrites to fire and for sound infrastructure, white matter, to be constructed creating paths to integrate with other regions of the brain; regions both immediate and “galaxies” away.
Work creates muscles and healthy brains.
Placing a nation on computerized, digital screen time will only create compromised brains sure to collapse or be labeled with the ever-increasing diagnoses listed in the DSM manual of mental disorders.
As human beings, we continue to be challenged by the sheer power of the technology and those behind the technology attempting to master humans for human capital. Best remember the wisdom of our electrifying inventor of technology and founding statesman:
Eighty-One year old Benjamin Franklin pointed out during the 1787 Constitutional Convention:
“I have lived a long time, the longer I live, the more I see that
“God governs in the affairs of man.”
A sparrow cannot fall without His notice.
Can an empire rise without His aid?”
“The Book of Psalms assures us that,
“Unless The LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
We can build our house in America (or brains) only with His help.”
This interjection from Benjamin Franklin ushered in the turning point of the 1787 Constitutional Convention: that of seeking God’s wisdom and prayer in developing what is now the longest running written Constitution in the world today.
Some things remain constitutional, and you don’t go messing with them —
A message we would be wise to heed as we Think about constructing human brains, families, communities, commerce and futures of nations….under God.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rains came down, and the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
www.heartland.org Joy Pullmann
* f MRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging, Fractional anisotropy, diffusion tensor imaging, voxel-based morphometry etc.