Home Blog Long-Term Effects of Early AI Exposure on Kids’ Cognitive Development

Long-Term Effects of Early AI Exposure on Kids’ Cognitive Development

Published: June 29, 2024
Writer at Plat.AI
Writer: Sona Poghosyan
Editor at Plat.AI
Editor: Ani Mosinyan
Reviewer at Plat.AI
Reviewer: Alek Kotolyan

Over the past several years, AI tools have seen impressive improvements to both their functions and their speed and accuracy. Many educational institutions have taken advantage of this groundbreaking technology by incorporating it into their curriculum and teaching methods. Naturally, there has been some discussion about how AI technologies will affect children’s development.

With children becoming more and more familiar with digital tools, AI in early childhood education is becoming increasingly prevalent. In this article, we explore the long-term effects of early AI exposure on children’s cognitive development and the importance of understanding these technologies and their effects on parents, educators, and policymakers.

Current Interaction of Kids with AI

Whether at school or at home, children today have access to many more avenues of digital interaction than ever before. When talking about “early” exposure, we generally mean AI tool usage between the ages of three and eight.

Kids playing with paper flower near the table

The most common uses of AI tools by children include:

1. Educational Apps and Games:

Adaptive Learning Platforms: Tools such as DreamBox or Khan Academy provide personalized learning options to students, adapting the difficulty of questions and topics based on the child’s skill and learning pace.

Language Learning: Apps like Duolingo use AI to adjust language lessons to the child’s performance and ability.

2. Interactive Storytelling:

AI-Powered Story Creators: Apps like Shorebird and AI Dungeon help children create their own stories, with generative AI assisting in plot ideation, character development, and dialogue.

Voice-Activated Storytelling: Devices such as Amazon Echo or Alexa can tell interactive stories, allowing children to choose their own paths and endings.

3. Virtual Tutors:

Homework Assistance: AI-powered tools like Socratic and Brainly can explain difficult concepts to children, giving them extra tutoring on difficult homework assignments.

4. Creative Arts:

Art and Music Creation: Platforms like DoodleLens and AI Duet help children create art and music by suggesting artistic styles or musical accompaniments based on their commands.

5. Social and Emotional Learning:

AI Companions: Apps like Replika and Woebot stimulate emotional and social development by engaging in conversation and providing emotional support to children.

The increased use of these technologies by children only highlights the potential for these tools to become even further integrated into their daily lives. This has understandably brought up concerns about how heavy usage of these tools at a young age might affect a child’s cognitive abilities.

Cognitive Development Traits and Skills

The major considerations when discussing AI use in children are based around how using these tools might affect their brains’ ability to grow and progress naturally and healthily. Cognitive traits like social skills, critical thinking, language, and emotional and physical development are most likely to be affected due to the nature in which children are using AI technology.

Social Skills

Although AI software provides plenty of advantages to children (more on those later), overreliance on these tools could reduce real-world face-to-face interactions, potentially limiting opportunities to practice social skills with other people. 

Despite its impressive advancements, AI cannot fully replicate human emotional responses. Without these interactions, social skills like empathy and communication could suffer due to less engagement with their peers. 

On the other hand, using intuitive interfaces and speech-based commands with AI can teach children how to interact with digital content and environments, enhancing their digital literacy. 

However, this should be balanced with traditional learning methods to maintain access to healthy social interactions. This thoughtful integration of AI tools into a child’s education helps to develop both their digital fluencies and their interpersonal skills. 

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Using AI for personalized learning can profoundly affect children, particularly those with learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia. These platforms, such as Knewton, DreamBox, Smart Sparrow, offer students the time and space they need to solve problems or comprehend literature without the stresses of a class that moves too quickly or too slowly. 

AI can support critical thinking by presenting complex problems and simulations, but it may limit opportunities for real-world problem-solving experiences. For example, an AI platform can simulate a historical event or a science experiment to teach a child a certain subject, but it lacks the hands-on engagement that would come from a live debate with classmates or a physical classroom experiment. 

Girl using AI to do remote homework with her teacher through a laptop screen

This could potentially create a gap in a student’s problem-solving skills, leaving them less prepared to navigate the nuanced challenges of real-world scenarios. The solution to this is to integrate these tools into existing structures to bridge this gap, building both theoretical and practical problem-solving abilities in children.

Verbal and Language Skills

Language-based AI models like Rosetta Stone and Lingokids can help children improve their language acquisition and communication. By providing personalized feedback, such as notes on correct vocabulary use and accent reduction, these tools can enhance vocabulary, pronunciation, and language comprehension, improving overall language skills and increasing the likelihood of learning a second language.

That being said, when children rely too much on these technologies, they may have fewer opportunities for real-life conversation, leading to lower communication scores and potentially underdeveloped cultural understanding.

Emotional Development

Research indicates that overuse of AI technologies can significantly impact a child’s emotional development due to the fact that AI technologies lack the depth of true human interaction. 

AI technologies cannot replicate the authenticity or complexity of human emotions, and studies in the International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology (IJISRT) show that relying on these tools for emotional regulation can impede a child’s ability to develop self-soothing techniques and emotional resilience.

However, AI can help support children with emotional difficulties by providing access to consistent, non-judgmental interaction. AI tools can provide children who experience emotional or behavioral challenges with personalized support in the form of comfortable and predictable interaction patterns, building their confidence and aiding healthy emotional development.

Physical Development

The use of digital tools has long been associated with improved hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and muscle memory. AI-based platforms often feature activities that require children to track moving objects, catch or throw virtual items, and manipulate small objects. 

Repeating these actions reinforces neural pathways to facilitate better motor control over time and help to improve dexterity and control. A study by SBIR suggests that AI platforms have been notably helpful in improving motor skills and eye contact in children with autism.

However, excessive sedentary behavior in children can have several long-term impacts on their physical health and development. Research performed by MDPI shows that prolonged sedentary behavior contributes to obesity and increases fat mass. This, in turn, heightens the risk of the child developing chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers that occur later in life.

Additionally, high levels of sedentary behavior are linked to poorer cognitive function, decreased academic performance, and various psychosocial problems, including lower self-esteem and increased risk of depression​​​​. 

UNICEF recommends using augmented reality games and other technology-based physical activities to negate these negative effects, promoting more active lifestyles among children and mitigating the health risks associated with excessive sedentary behavior​​.

Long-Term Effects: Positive, Negative, or Both?

Research suggests that early exposure to AI in children can result in both positive and negative long-term effects. Balancing the potential benefits of these tools against their associated risks will lead to a better understanding of how children should interact with AI technologies.

Studies have shown AI to impact children in the following ways positively:

  • Accessible, Personalized Learning

AI-powered software like Knewton can make education more efficient and engaging by adapting learning materials to fit individual students’ needs. According to an IJISRT study, personalized learning platforms can improve cognitive abilities in children, especially those with learning disabilities. These tools tailor lessons to each student, addressing their unique learning pace and style and enhancing their engagement and educational results.

  • Development of Tech-Savvy Skills

As reported by ScienceDirect, early exposure to AI technologies can nurture tech-savvy skills in students, preparing them to join an increasingly technology-centric world. Children who interact with AI from a young age tend to have a better understanding of AI and are better equipped to adapt to new technological advancements. This adaptability fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and digital literacy skills, which are becoming even more valuable in the modern workforce.

  • Enhanced Cognitive Skills

High-quality interactive content can significantly improve learning ability and flexibility when transferring between digital and real-world tasks. AI tools, which are specifically designed for education, can have a positive impact on comprehension and cognitive skills in young students, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. By providing interactive and engaging learning experiences, these tools help develop critical thinking and adaptability to encourage academic and personal growth in children.

  • Global Access to Education

Virtual classrooms and remote learning systems powered by AI transcend geographical barriers, offering global access to high-quality education. According to UNICEF, AI-driven platforms provide valuable opportunities for children in remote and underserved regions to have access to quality education that may not be available otherwise. By democratizing education, AI is helping to bridge the gap between different socio-economic groups, giving any child the chance to learn and grow regardless of their location.

  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems

AI-powered tutoring systems like Carnegie Learning or DreamBox help students understand and retain information more productively by offering real-time explanations, direction, and support. According to a study published by ScienceDirect, these intelligent tutoring systems can improve learning efficiency by using adaptive learning methods to provide tailored feedback. Tools like these provide students with personalized attention, leading to higher academic scores and a deeper understanding of the curriculum.

While the positives of AI on children are notable, there are significant negatives that should be considered:

  • Dependency on Technology

Relying too heavily on AI tools for education could lead to young children experiencing a higher dependence on technology, harming their ability to take part in non-digital activities. According to a study published in the IJISRT, spending too much unsupervised time using these resources has been linked to various developmental issues. These long-term effects include attention problems, underdeveloped language skills, and social isolation.

  • Reduced Human Interaction

AI tools can often demand constant interaction and attention from their users, and children may not know when they’ve spent too much time using them. This can limit human face-to-face interactions and result in them lacking proper communication and social skills. 

Kid's finger pointing

UNICEF’s research indicates that overusing AI tools, especially those designed for adults, can cause cognitive delays in children, such as underdeveloped executive functions like emotional regulation and abstract thinking. Without direct and regular human engagement, a young child’s social competence and emotional well-being may suffer due to underdeveloped empathy and emotional understanding.

  • Susceptibility to Biases

AI and machine learning algorithms are prone to reinforcing existing biases, especially when trying to mimic complex and nuanced processes. This can unintentionally promote inequity and lead to unfair treatment for certain groups, especially among impressionable children. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) warns that the inherent biases in AI systems can disproportionally affect marginalized communities. 

For instance, algorithms designed for educational settings may unintentionally favor students from more privileged backgrounds, intensifying educational disparities. A study by Select Statistics notes that algorithms can display biases during school assessments, leading to unfair academic outcomes. This was evident when schools in the UK controversially used an AI-based grading system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Balanced Perspective

Despite these seemingly daunting disadvantages, there is a way to balance supervised AI usage with non-digital activities and continuous human interaction to mitigate these negative effects while still allowing young children to benefit from AI tools. 

Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that active parental involvement can enhance the positive effects of AI tools while maintaining positive human interactions. This can lead to better learning outcomes and encourage critical thinking. This is also reinforced by MDPI’s findings that the quality of AI interaction plays a much bigger role in child development than the quantity of interactions.

Furthermore, continued research and discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of AI should be encouraged to facilitate responsible decision-making when it comes to how children should use these tools. UNICEF reports that an objective approach to integrating AI into children’s lives can help educators and parents make informed decisions.

Policy and Ethical Considerations

Recent policies by the U.S. government, such as the creation of the U.S. AI Safety Institute (AISIC), highlight the need for ongoing research and safety regulations for AI tools to counteract their long-term negative effects. Collaboration between teachers, school administrators, parents, and policymakers is key to establishing effective and ethical AI policies. 

Ethical policies should ensure that AI systems are developed and implemented in educational institutions in a responsible manner. They should focus on prioritizing contemporary data governance to uphold privacy and security and guaranteeing that AI technologies use accurate, unbiased data. Continued evaluations of AI technologies can help balance their innovative potential with their ethical considerations, especially when discussing their implementation into education systems.

Conclusion

Considering both the benefits and the risks of early AI exposure emphasizes that it’s not just the amount of time children spend using AI tools that impacts their cognitive development but how they use those tools. 

Ongoing research will hopefully shed more light on these factors and support healthy cognitive, social, and emotional development. Creating a balance and fostering healthy habits around AI in children will help to promote this growth and mitigate any associated risks. 

As AI tools become increasingly intertwined with educational programs, parents and educators should approach these practices from an informed and ethical position, prioritizing the development of their children.

Sources

MDPI. “Impact of AI on Child Development and Education.” Accessed May 22, 2024. 

TeacherPH. “Balanced Technological Integration in Education.” Accessed May 22, 2024. 

International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology. “AI in Early Childhood Education: A Double-Edged Sword.” Accessed May 22, 2024.

ScienceDirect. “The Role of AI in Child Development: Benefits and Risks.” Accessed May 22, 2024.

BMC Public Health. “Impact of AI on Children’s Physical Activity and Screen Time: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Accessed May 22, 2024. 

UNICEF. “Children and AI: Rights and Opportunities.” Accessed May 22, 2024. 

Frontiers in Psychology. “The Role of AI in Enhancing Child Development: Prospects and Challenges.” Accessed May 22, 2024

American Academy of Pediatrics. “How Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Affect Children?” Accessed May 22, 2024.

NIST. “NIST Proposes Approach to Reducing Risk of Bias in Artificial Intelligence.” Accessed May 22, 2024. 

Select Statistics. “What the A-Level Grade Scandal Can Show Us About Algorithmic Bias.” Accessed May 22, 2024.

SBIR. “STTR Phase I: An Immersive Gaze-Controlled Video Game to Help Children on the Autism Spectrum Improve Their Eye Contact, Emotion Recognition, and Joint Attention Skills.” Accessed May 22, 2024.

The White House. “Biden-Harris Administration Announces Key AI Actions 180 Days Following President Biden’s Landmark Executive Order.” Accessed May 23, 2024. 

U.S. Department of Commerce. “Biden-Harris Administration Announces First-Ever Consortium Dedicated to AI Safety.” Accessed May 23, 2024.


Sona Poghosyan

WriterSona is a skilled writer, editor, and proofreader with years of experience in media and IT. Her work can be found in various tech, finance, and lifestyle publications. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing about all things film and literature.


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