The increase in online media use and mental health problems have prompted investigations into their association, although most literature is focussed on deleterious effects. We assessed the aetiology of media use and mental health associations (M age = 22.14, SD = 0.85) using twin (n = 4000 pairs) and polygenic score methods (n = 6000 unrelated individuals) in the Twins Early Development Study. Beyond the traditionally explored negative uses of online media (online victimisation and problematic internet use), we investigate general media uses such as posting online and watching videos and distinguish both positive (pro-social behaviour) and negative (anxiety, depression, peer and behaviour problems) mental health measures. Negative media use correlated with poor mental health (r = 0.11–0.32), but general media use correlated with prosocial behaviour (r = 0.20) and fewer behavioural problems (r = − 0.24). Twin analyses showed that both general and negative media use were moderately heritable (ranging from 20 to 49%) and their associations with mental health were primarily due to genetic influences (44–88%). Genetic sensitivity analysis combining polygenic scores with heritability estimates also suggest genetic confounding. Results indicate research on the mental health impact of media use should adopt genetically informed designs to strengthen causal inference.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1030
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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