adolescence, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, communications media, psychopathology


Purpose: To date, little is known about underlying psychophysiological contributions to the impact of media content and overall screen time on adolescent psychological functioning. In the present study we examine respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) as a moderator of the link between specific types of media content use, overall media exposure, and the development of internalizing and aggressive symptoms in youth.

Methods: A sample of 374 adolescents (mean age = 15) reported on their media use, internalizing behavior, and aggressive behavior at time 1 (2011) and 1-year follow-up (2012). RSA reactivity was gathered during a challenging laboratory task. Path analyses were conducted to test the hypothesized three-way interaction model between media use, media content, and RSA reactivity, separately for internalizing and aggressive problems.

Results: Significant interactions were found for aggressive, but not prosocial, media content. For aggressive content, youth exhibiting RSA withdrawal reported significantly greater internalizing and aggressive symptoms when exposed to higher amounts of screen time and aggressive content.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that profiles of heightened RSA withdrawal may place adolescents at greater risk to the negative impact of violent media, whereas prosocial media content may not significantly impact youth development of psychopathology. Implications for the role of psychophysiology in our understanding of media effects are discussed.

Original Publication Citation

Sanders, W., Parent, J., Abaied, J. L., Forehand, R., Coyne, S. M., & Dyer, W. J. (2018). The longitudinal impact of screen time on adolescent development: Moderation by respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 459-465.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Adolescent Health




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor