Dr Ryuta Kawashima, executive director of the Smart-Aging Research Center at Tohoku University, is a neuroscientist widely known for his research into aging. Writing in the March issue of Bungei Shunju, Kawashima discusses the latest research findings into smartphone use by juveniles, which involved testing of primary- and middle-school students.
Since 2010, Kawashima has conducted annual tests on about 70,000 children per year, including 22,390 students at public junior high schools in Sendai City.
According to a survey by the cabinet office, the diffusion rate of smartphones in Japan among elementary, junior high and high school students in 2017 was approximately 30%, 58% and 96%, respectively.
Do children's academic performance drops due to the use of smartphones. Or, is an already poor student simply more likely to indulge in cell phone use? Numerous environmental factors also need to be taken into account. According to one study by the Sendai City board of education, the dividing line in acceptable and failing performance was found between children in the group who get less than six hours sleep per night and who spend at least one hour or longer per day reading a book at home; and those who study for about 30 minutes and obtain six or more hours sleep per night.
Nevertheless, comparative testing of groups has consistently underscored that smartphones are not conducive to the development of young minds, and the more the usage, the greater the organic damage.
In search of evidence, 214 juveniles in Sendai between the ages of five and 18 were administered MRI brain scans over a period of three years. Youths who regularly utilized the internet, as opposed to those who did not, showed impaired development in the volume of the cerebral cortex in all major areas of their brains. The latter group also showed a similar shortfall in the volume of white matter that transmits data via the nerve cells.?
From this, Kawashima concludes that use of the internet and/or smartphones not only reduces a child's academic performance, but even more alarming, negatively affects overall brain development. As the children's brains were not subjected to actual forensic autopsies, Kawashima can only speculate on the degree of damage, but is convinced that follow-up studies will provide more valid evidence.
As a practical cure, or at least a partial cure, Kawashima believes that reading books is effective. Unfortunately, however, growing numbers of today's children cannot concentrate on something for more than five minutes at a time, making reading books a struggle.
Kawashima strongly believes that smartphone use is undesirable from infancy through junior high school. "Long-term usage of smartphones," he writes, "through the influence of extreme multitasking, puts the brakes on brain development in children."?
He also writes: "The smartphone, clearly, is a 'tool that turns humans into monkeys.' There's nothing that scares me more than this."
Smartphones only came into existence eight years ago. Prior to that, even without smartphones, our lives did not suffer terribly because of the lack thereof. Granted, in some ways the new phones afford us with convenience; but the downside is their prolonged usage can lead to deterioration of the brain -- particularly the development of the prefrontal cortex, in which exists the "mind" that only human beings possess.
"To passively receive a flood of digital information... in their daily lives...seizes away opportunities for developing children to utilize their brains,"?concludes Kawashima, who adds the English expression "use it or lose it" for emphasis.?
What will the future hold for children who grow up delegating the processing of more and more information to electronic devices?? Japan Today