Report on collected fMRI data related to effects of intensity of ICT use on brain activity associated with attention and with linguistic and mathematical processes

Kimmo Alho, Hendrik Hartmann, Artturi Ylinen, Minna Hannula-Sormunen, Jake McMullen, Erno Lehtinen, Nea Rinne, Lauri Hietajärvi, Katariina Salmela-Aro, Patrik Wikman, Elien Bellon, Bert De Smedt

Tutkimustuotos: TyöpaperiKeskustelupaperiTieteellinen


Associations of adolescents’ information and communication technology (ICT) skills and activities, measured with the ySKILLS questionnaire, and their brain activity, measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and task performance in mathematical tasks in the presence or absence of distracting speech were studied in 189 12–14-year-old Finnish participants. The results showed no associations of ICT skills or activities with the participants’ performance in the mathematical tasks. There was only one association of ICT skills with brain activity: Participants’ higher content creation and production skills were associated with stronger fMRI responses from the parietal white matter. However, this finding is suspicious, because reliability and functional significance of fMRI findings in the white matter are not clearly established.
A subgroup of Finnish participants (n = 60) also performed listening and reading tasks during fMRI. In these tasks spoken or written sentences were to be classified as semantically congruent (e.g., “This morning I ate a bowl of cereal”) or incongruent (e.g., “This morning I ate a bowl of shoes”) at the presence or absence of distractor sentences in the other modality, that is, written distractors during the listening task and spoken distractor during the reading task. Performance accuracy in these tasks increased gradually with the amount of online gaming in participants’ daily life, suggesting that gaming may be advantageous for development of linguistic or attention skills, or both, needed in the present fast-paced tasks. However, performance accuracy dropped for participants gaming excessively (“several times a day” or “almost all the time”), suggesting that detrimental effects of excessive gaming override the positive effects of gaming on cognitive skills. Moreover, participants’ communication and interaction skills, as well as their content creation and production skills, had an interaction with Task (reading vs. listening), and Distractor (present vs. absent) which might be interpreted as negative associations of these ICT skills and linguistic skills. Perhaps the participants had acquired high ICT skills at the expense of linguistic skills. There was also one unexpected significant association of ICT skills and brain activity during the linguistic tasks: Higher information, navigation, and processing skills were associated with higher activity in the anterior insula of the left hemisphere. Previous studies have suggested that this brain area is involved in linguistic processing and therefore also this finding suggests an association of participants ICT and linguistic skills. However, since there was no association of the information, navigation, and processing skills with task performance, it is not possible to interpret whether positive association of these skills and activity in the left insula reflects higher processing efficiency or higher effort during linguistic task performance.
Finally, associations between adolescents’ ICT skills and activities and their attention and working memory skills measured with widely used cognitive tasks in 51 12–13-year-old Belgian participants were investigated. The results showed that participants with lower attention skills had higher amounts of online activities and were sharing more on social media. However, the causal direction is not possible to resolve from this cross-sectional data: Either adolescents with lower attention skills are prone to online and social media activities, or the amount of time spent online and in social media is detrimental to adolescents’ attention skills. Moreover, participants performing worse in the working memory task had higher self-reported communication and interaction skills, but again causal direction of this association cannot be resolved here. A subgroup of 19 participants also completed the ySKILLS performance test that measured their digital skills in practice. Performance on this test was positively correlated with participants’ working memory capacity. Participants with higher working memory capacity showed higher performance on the performance tests. This suggests that high working memory capacity is advantageous for development of ICT skills or that developing high ICT skills may be accompanied by development of working memory skills, or both.
In conclusion, the present studies found some associations of ICT skills and activities with performance and brain activity during linguistic tasks, as well as with attention and working memory skills. However, given that the present data are cross-sectional, no strong causal implications can be drawn from these data.
DOI - pysyväislinkit
TilaJulkaistu - 31 elok. 2023
OKM-julkaisutyyppiD4 Julkaistu kehittämis- tai tutkimusraportti taikka -selvitys


  • 515 Psykologia
  • 516 Kasvatustieteet

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