Can media use in adolescents increase the risk of psychotic experiences in early adulthood?

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In a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, a team of Canadian scientists investigated the association between media use among adolescents and the occurrence of psychotic experiences at the age of 23, using longitudinal data on media use.

Study: Trajectories of Adolescent Media Use and Their Associations With Psychotic Experiences. Image Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.comStudy: Trajectories of Adolescent Media Use and Their Associations With Psychotic Experiences. Image Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Background

An increasing number of studies have reported associations between above-normal media use and mental health problems among adolescents.

While the academic, recreational, and social use of media is considered normal for adolescents, increased screen-based media use seems to have risk factors such as loneliness, problems between parent and child, and bullying, which are common with serious mental health problems.

These associations also suggest that increased media use could also be a risk factor for psychotic experiences.

Surveys have shown that psychotic experiences have a prevalence of 5% to 7% among adults and a 13% risk of psychotic experiences by the age of 24 years. These experiences could be mild, consisting of suspicion and strange ideas, to severe, where the individual suffers from hallucinations and delusions.

Psychotic experiences typically manifest around the mid to late teenage years, and although it does not always develop into a mental illness, it significantly increases the risk of substance abuse and affective and psychotic disorders. However, whether high media use is connected to psychotic experiences remains unclear.

About the study

In the present study, the scientists examined longitudinal trajectories of four media use types, namely, video gaming, television viewing, reading, and computer use, beginning at the age of 12 and extending up to 17 years, to determine whether media use was associated with psychotic experiences.

They used longitudinal trajectories to account for any alterations in the association between media use and psychotic experiences due to temporal changes or the type of media.

The participants enrolled in the study were part of a longitudinal study on child development from Québec, Canada, and included over two thousand children born between 1997 and 1998.

The participants and families were randomly chosen and covered the complete socioeconomic range of the province.

A 15-item questionnaire on community assessment of psychic experiences was used to determine the frequency of psychotic experiences in participants at 23 years of age.

The items in this questionnaire addressed aspects of psychotic experiences such as persecutory ideations, bizarre experiences, and perceptual abnormalities that were experienced only when the participants were not under the influence of any substances.

The four types of media use covered social, recreational, and academic purposes, and participants were required to report how much time was typically spent each week using each type of media. The responses ranged from less than one hour to one to two hours, and the responses were obtained from ages 12, 13, 15, and 17.

Data were obtained from the parents on sociodemographic characteristics such as household income, racialized groups, and sex, as well as on the mental health of the parents when the children were between five months and two and a half years of age.

Reports on anxiety, depression, defiant behaviors, hyperactivity, and inattention were also obtained from teachers when the participants were 12 years old.

Additionally, self-reported data from the participants on exposure to bullying, parental support or monitoring, and the quality of friendship with their best friend were also included in the analyses.

Results

The results showed modest associations between longitudinal trajectories of adolescent media use and the development of psychotic experiences at 23 years of age, which indicated the role of shared risk factors.

The study found that the trajectory of media use for 10% to 29% of the children between ages 12 and 17 showed curved or high trajectories, which was further linked to a 4%–5% increase in psychotic experiences by the age of 23.

Interpersonal difficulties and mental health issues associated with increased video game use at the age of 12 were found to be linked to a 3%–7% increase in psychotic experiences.

Computer use was found to decline sharply after mid-adolescence, which was also in contrast to what had currently been observed in using technology and social media to stay connected.

For computer use, this curved trajectory was also linked to a higher incidence of psychotic experiences at 23 years.

Conclusions

Overall, the findings suggested that increased media use during the adolescent years was not strongly connected to the incidence of psychotic experiences at the age of 23, but modest associations indicated that media use and psychotic experiences may share risk factors.

The researchers believe that psychosocial functions and environmental determinants of adolescent media use should be examined further to develop prevention and management strategies for psychotic experiences.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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