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Increased Smartphone Use May Be Affecting Teens’ Brain Activity

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Excessive use of smartphones creates an imbalance in the brain chemistry of teenagers and young adults, according to a study.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that 46% of Americans said that they cannot live without their smartphones, Science Daily reports. More and more people are becoming dependent on their smartphones and other gadgets for information, news, communication, games and such.

Because of this increase in screentime, there is a growing concern that young people may be spending too much time looking at their phones, calling attention to the immediate and log-term effects of this phenomenon on the brain.

Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and fellow researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to take a closer look at the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted adolescents. MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical makeup.

There were 19 participants, with a mean age of 15.5 years, diagnosed with internet and smartphone addiction, and a control group of 19 healthy teens. Twelve of the addicted teenagers received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy as a part of the study.

Standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests served as the foundation for measuring severity, with questions zeroing in on how smartphone and internet use affected the participants’ daily routines, social lives, sleeping patterns, productivity and feelings.

Seo said that the addicted teenagers measured higher in depression, insomnia, anxiety and impulsivity.

The researchers conducted the tests before and after the behavioral therapy, and one MRS test on the control group to measure gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA, a brain neurotransmitter that slows down brain signals, and levels of glutamate-glutamine or Glx, a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become excited.

The ratio of GABA and Glx in the addicted teens was higher, which Seo said is correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

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