PhD Defense: Children's Media Use & ADHD


media adhd 750 500Violent media use can be a precursor as well as a result of ADHD-related behaviours. This is one of the findings from Sanne Nikkelen’s doctoral research. Nikkelen will defend her PhD on Wednesday, January 20th at the University of Amsterdam.

Recent decades have witnessed an increasing concern that excessive use of entertainment media (i.e., television programs and games) may elicit symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. ADHD is a developmental disorder characterized by high levels of inattention (i.e., difficulties staying concentrated), hyperactivity (i.e., being restless), and impulsivity (i.e., problems inhibiting inappropriate behavior, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). ADHD is one of the most common childhood developmental disorders, with a prevalence ranging from 5.0 to 7.1% in Western countries (Willcutt, 2012). With these growing concerns, research on the potential relationship between media use and ADHD symptoms has grown. Yet, this work has not provided a clear understanding of this relationship. For example, does media use lead to ADHD for some children? Or, alternatively, do children with ADHD tend to use certain media more frequently?

To improve our understanding of this relationship, in her dissertation, Nikkelen investigated (1) whether there is a relationship between media use and ADHD-related behaviours among children, (2) the role of individual differences in this relationship, and lastly, (3) the direction (causality) of the association between these variables.

The findings of the dissertation provide three important insights: Media ADHD Background

First, the results show that there are specific differences in media use and media responses associated with ADHD-related behaviours. Children who display high ADHD-related behaviours use more media in general and specifically more exciting content, particularly violent content.

Second, this dissertation shows that individual difference factors can play an important role in the media-ADHD relationship. For example, the findings indicate that children are not universally attracted to violent media use, but that this is in part genetically determined. It was also found that that parents, by the way they set rules about media use, can play a meaningful role in adolescent’s violent media consumption.

Third, the findings of this dissertation argue that violent media acts both as a cause and as a consequence of ADHD-related behaviours, which suggests a negative cycle of effects between the two. General media use, however, was only found to be a consequence of ADHD-related behaviours. 

In all, while effect sizes are relatively small, this dissertation offers crucial clarifications for the field and provides key points for future research in the area of children’s media use and ADHD-related behaviours. 

Congratulations, Sanne, on your fine achievement!

PhD Defense Details

S.W.C. Nikkelen, The role of media entertainment in children’s and adolescents’ ADHD-related behaviors. A reason for concern? Promotor: prof. dr. P.M. Valkenburg. Co-promotores: dr. H.G.M. Vossen & dr. J.T. Piotrowski.

The PhD defense ceremony will take place on Wednesday, January 20, at 14:00 at the Agnietenkapel (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 229-231, Amsterdam.

Download Dissertation and Summary Here.

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