Excessive internet use is shown to be cross sectionally associated with lower cognitive functioning and reduced volume of several brain areas. However, the effects of daily internet use on the development of verbal intelligence and brain structures have not been investigated. Here, we cross sectionally examined the effects of the frequency of internet use on regional gray/white matter volume (rGMV/rWMV) and verbal intelligence as well as their longitudinal changes after 3.0 ± 0.3 (standard deviation) years in a large sample of children recruited from the general population (mean age, 11.2 ± 3.1 years; range, 5.7-18.4 years). Although there were no significant associations in cross sectional analyses, a higher frequency of internet use was found to be associated with decrease of verbal intelligence and smaller increase in rGMV and rWMV of widespread brain areas after a few years in longitudinal analyses. These areas involve areas related to language processing, attention and executive functions, emotion, and reward. In conclusion, frequent internet use is directly or indirectly associated with decrease of verbal intelligence and development to smaller gray matter volume at later stages.
Keywords: brain development; gray matter volume; internet use; verbal intelligence; white matter volume.
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