I found several articles that warn of the dangers of too much computer time, especially for children.

However, a recent article in the New York Times showed how, thanks to our rampant use of technology, scientists are now concerned that neuroplasticity can work against us to create bad learning habits.

According to the article, our brains can become addicted to the fast-paced, instantaneous give-and-take of the high-speed, connected, online world . This can become a problem where learning is concerned. It can cause issues in the parts of the brain that deal with deep thought, introspection, and reasoning.

Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.

But perhaps the most concerning changes we're starting to see from all this screen time is in kids' brains. An ongoing study supported by the NIH has found that some pre-teens who clocked over 7 hours a day on screens had differences in a part of their brains called the cortex. That's the region responsible for processing information from our five senses.

Usually, our cortex gets thinner as we mature. But these kids had thinner cortices earlier than other kids who spent less time on screens. Scientists aren't sure what this could mean for how the kids learn and behave later in life. But the same data also showed that kids who spent more than 2 hours a day on screens scored lower on thinking and language skill tests.

This seems inconsistent with the congitive abilities of programmers and engineeers who use computers daily (ie programmers and engineers).

Is it true that looking at computer screens for many hours causes damage to the brain?

  • 17
    Although those studies use the words "screen time", it's not the screen that damages or changes the brain, it's the content displayed on the screen. Looking at fast paced, meaningless children's shows on TV or meaningless clickbait videos on Youtube is worlds apart from analysing and creating software code as your daily job.
    – Elmy
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 5:37
  • 5
    "Change" != "damage", maybe rephrase the question.
    – dandavis
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 17:07
  • 2
    For whatever answer to come, be aware that there are a lot of possible factors to take into account: what kind of activity you are doing (games, watching TV shows, documentaries or...), how long you are doing it, when (e.g: during the day or late in the evening), who is in front of the screen (adult/teen/children) and what kind of changes to the brain we are talking about.
    – Entropy
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 10:51
  • As a heavy user of computers with a lot of screen time I'm fairly sure that bbrt xxcse bahhy strock provrtcx..
    – matt_black
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 12:44

1 Answer 1


It may delay development in childhood. It can cause depression in adulthood..

Findings so far are developpement lateness. I couldn't find a study showing these damages would be permanent, though. I'm going to assume here you mean media exposure and not just empty screen staring.

This paper gives convincing evidence that the brain structure could be affected by high media exposure during child brain developpement.

In this cross-sectional study of 47 healthy prekindergarten children, screen use greater than that recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines was associated with (1) lower measures of microstructural organization and myelination of brain white matter tracts that support language and emergent literacy skills and (2) corresponding cognitive assessments.

Note that although the brain structure was previously not studied, lateness of developpement in cognitive assessments had been previously studied, in studies similar to this one. Here the content and parental behavior is being pointed out

The cognitive impact of television use on infants and toddlers (<∼2.5 years old) is related to the amount of exposure, the program content, and the social context of viewing. For children <2 years of age, associations with aspects of cognitive development are negative, especially for language and executive function6,7 largely because of exposure to programming produced for adults. Because children of this age pay little overt attention to such programs and likely have little comprehension of them, adult programming can be considered background television from the perspective of the child. Background television has been shown to disrupt 12- and 24-month-old children’s sustained toy play and reduce the quality and quantity of parent-child interactions compared with when the television is not on.8,9 In particular, background television reduces the quantity and quality of parental language addressed to their 12- and 24-month-old children.

Because of the reasons invoked and the specifical state that the child brain is in, it's difficult to imagine the same effect would apply to adults, but has been shown link to some negative effects such as depression, although no significant brain damage is observed here.

Approximately 25% of participants engaged in at least 4 hours/day of TVSE. In general linear models, TVSE time per week was independently associated with GHQ-12 score (higher scores represent worse mental health status) after adjustment for age, gender, physical activity, physical function, area deprivation level, smoking, alcohol, fruit and vegetable intake, and BMI. After full adjustment, participants in the group with the highest TVSE level (>4 hours/day) had an increase in GHQ-12 score of 0.28 (95% CI=0.05, 0.51) compared with participants in the group with the lowest TVSE level (≤2 hours/day). In stratified analyses, the association between TVSE time and GHQ-12 score persisted across all physical activity levels. Similar associations were observed using the MCS-12.

After a bit of research I couldn't find evidences of real permanent damage and remain skeptical there is any.

  • The question relates to computer time rather than TV watching Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 6:05
  • @ChrisRogers - The quotes in the question only mention screen time; the word "computer" does not appear in any of them, aside from the title of the first quoted source. TVs are screens. More to the point, "screen time" claims tend to be implicitly about passive media consumption (not, e.g., writing software or creating AutoCAD designs), which is little different between TV and youtube. Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 7:41
  • Netflix has a drama-documentary called "The Social Dilemma" which is quite relevant. It's more than just screen-time per se, but the stuff that we do with it.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 4:36

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