Two educationalists from the University of Regensburg in Germany, Dr. Sebastian Suggate and Dr. Philipp Martzog, have investigated the connection between mental imagery in children and their screen-media usage at home.
The researchers found that more frequent use of screen media, such as TV, tablets or smartphones, was associated with poorer mental imagery.
Mental imagery enables children and adults to depict events or objects as if they were in front of an ‘inner eye’. This ability is an important component of cognitive development, including thinking, problem solving, language, and imagination.
The study involved 266 kindergarten and primary school children between the ages of three and nine. The researchers found that the longer the daily use of screen media, the slower that mental imagery skill developed across the course of the study. This finding applied not only to passive screen use, that is television, but also to so-called active media, such as smartphones, tablets or PCs.
On the back of these findings the scientists recommend a careful use of screen-media and compensatory activities. For example, it may be possible to better program apps to more effectively support mental image creation.
But in general screen media cannot replace activities that require and stimulate mental imagery, such as spoken language, reading loud, physical and imaginative play. In addition, children should be given sufficient opportunity to be active and creative in the three-dimensional world.
The results of the study, which was supported by the Software AG Foundation, have been published in Developmental Science and can be read here.