Attention problems, often manifestedin the form of attention-deﬁcit/hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), are associ-ated with negative outcomes for chil-dren and adolescents, includingpoorer school performance and in-creased aggression.
Research hasexamined exposure to television andvideo games in childhood and adoles-cenceasapotentialriskfactorforsub-sequent attention problems.
It hasbeenhypothesizedthatmosttelevisionshows are so exciting that childrenwho frequently watch television havemore difﬁculty paying attention to lessexciting tasks (eg, school work).
Oth-ers have hypothesized that becausemost television programs involverapid changes in focus, frequentexposure to television may harmchildren’s abilities to sustain focuson tasks that are not inherentlyattention-grabbing.
Most research on media and attentionhaslookedexclusivelyattelevision,yetthere are conceptual reasons to sus-pect that video games could show asimilar pattern. Many video gamesseem to share many features (eg, highexcitement, rapid changes in focus)that have been identiﬁed as potentiallyrelevant to the television associationwith attention problems, making asimilar association between videogame playing and attention problemsplausible. Most cross-sectional stud-ies (single time point) have found tele-vision exposure to be associated withgreaterattentionproblems.
Longitu-dinalstudiesoftelevisionviewinghavegenerally found a similar link, provid-ing evidence that television viewing isa risk factor for subsequent attentionproblems
; however, a few studieshave not found a statistically signiﬁ-cant association (single time point orlongitudinal) between television view-ing and attention problems.
Fewerstudies to date have examined the pos-sibilitythatvideogamescanproduceasimilar increase in attention prob-lems. Some single time point studiesfound an association between videogame playing and attention problemsand/or ADHD diagnoses.
Otherstudies associated violent televisionand/orvideogameplayingwithpoorerexecutive functioning and proactivecognitive control, which may be re-lated to attention problems.
Moreresearch is clearly needed to examinethe effects of video game playing onattention problems, particularly by us-ing longitudinal designs.*Although some research has indicatedthat television increases attentionproblems only among children in theﬁrst 3 years of life,
others have notfoundevidenceforthisearlychildhoodvulnerability.
Some other studieshave found prospective effects of tele-vision exposure on attention problemsin adolescent samples, providing addi-tional evidence that television viewingmay increase attention problems be-yondearlychildhood.
Giventhesedif-fering ﬁndings, more longitudinal re-search is necessary to provide a morecomplete picture of the ages at whichscreen media can inﬂuence attentionproblems. Furthermore, only 1 pub-lished study has examined televisionexposure in relation to attention prob-lems beyond age 16.
More researchwith samples of late adolescents andadults would be valuable in establish-ing the persistence of the associationof television exposure and attentionproblems into late adolescence andearly adulthood. These studies ad-dressed 3 questions: (1) Are both tele-visionandvideogameexposuresasso-ciated with greater concurrentattention problems? (2) Are televisionand video game use associated withchanges in attention problems overtimeinmiddlechildhood?(3)Areasso-ciations of television and video gameexposures with attention problemsdifferent in middle childhood com-pared with late adolescence/earlyadulthood?
This research includes 2 samples of males and females: 1 sample frommiddle childhood and another samplefrom late adolescence/early adult-hood. Table 1 displays sample sizes,gender composition, and age rangesfor these 2 samples. The middle child-hood sample was recruited from 10schools in 2 Midwestern US states. Thedata for this sample were collected aspart of the SWITCH obesity preventionproject.
Thisinterventionhad3majorgoals: reducing screen media expo-sure, increasing physical activity, andincreasing fruit and vegetable con-sumption. These children were third-grade (430), fourth-grade (446), andﬁfth-grade (423) students at the initial
;how-ever, it should be noted that these improvements invisual attention consist of the rapid and accurate ex-traction and processing of information from the vi-sual ﬁeld, abilities quite distinct from the attentionproblemsthatareassociatedwithdisorderssuchasADHD.
Characteristic SampleMiddleChildhoodLateAdolescence/Early AdulthoodAge range, y 6–12
Sample size 1323 210Female gender, % 53 60Study design Longitudinal Single time pointTime lag betweenﬁrst and lastassessments,mo13 NA
NA indicates not applicable.
Age is reported as measured at the ﬁrst wave of datacollection. A total of 98.8% of this sample was between 8and11yearsatthistime.Analysisthatexcludedthosewhowere younger than 8 or older than 11 did not differ mean-ingfully from analysis that used the full sample; therefore,participants of all ages were included in the reportedanalyses.
A total of 96.2% of this sample was between 18 and 24yearsatthetimeofassessment.Excludingthosewhowereolder than 24 years did not meaningfully change the re-sults of the analyses; therefore, participants of all ageswere included in the reported analyses.