Alpha Generation Lab

Alpha Generation Lab

Alpha Generation Lab

The Alpha Generation Lab at ELTE's Department of Ethology is exploring the relationship between children and the digital world using scientific methods. A new generation is emerging - the Alpha Generation, born since 2010 - who are already absorbing digital knowledge through their mothers' milk and often learn to use a touchscreen before they can walk. What changes will this bring to children's ability to think, perceive, learn, or even move? Very little is yet known about these changes, which are likely to pose new challenges for teachers and, of course, parents. Therefore, researchers at the Department of Ethology at ELTE have decided to be among the first in the world to study the digital device use of the Alpha Generation and its impact on their thinking and social skills.

Research in progress

Alphie, the child-friendly mobile

Alphie is an educational app, a mobile agent which aims to achieve a positive change in children’s behavior and their social-cognitive skills through its social nature (displaying emotions) and different games while also helping parents to control their child's digital activity, for example by setting time limits.

In this research, we are investigating whether giving Alphie a personality will have a more positive effect, i.e. whether it will develop children's social-cognitive skills more effectively and facilitate offline and social activities more. We are interested in whether the change is more positive if the app has a certain personality (e.g. sociable) or if the personality matches the child's personality (e.g. sociable child develops more from using the app if Alphie's personality is also sociable).

The research is funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA K 135478), European Union project RRF-2.3.1-21-2022-00004, Artificial Intelligence National Laboratory.

Storytelling and creativity

In our research, we are interested in how the intensity of visualization in digital storybooks (i.e. how many drawings or animations are included) and the social context of storytelling (i.e. whether the story is read by the parent or the digital device) affect children's creativity, fantasy and imagination.

Children listen to a story or watch a cartoon either read by the parent or by the original audio. The amount of pictures and animations in the stories varies randomly. Before and after the storytelling session, children's creativity, fantasy and imagination are assessed through playful tests (e.g. drawing, thinking, brainstorming), while parents fill in a short questionnaire.

The research is funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, OTKA PD 134984), European Union project RRF-2.3.1-21-2022-00004, Artificial Intelligence National Laboratory.

Digital measurement of socio-cognitive skills

The research aims to develop and assess the usability and reliability of digital versions of existing psychological tests that measure children’s social and cognitive skills. For this purpose, we compare the results of the traditional (completed in person, verbally) and the digital (completed at home on a mobile touchscreen device) versions of the tests.

Validated digital versions of the tests enable easy and quick measurement of children’s social skills meaning that tests could be executed even if circumstances barely or do not allow the execution of real-life tests (e.g. pandemic, a long distance from the lab). The mobile touchscreen device versions of the tests also provide a huge opportunity for applied areas (e.g., health care, education) since a large amount of data could be collected via digital device use. The collected data could be used to monitor children’s skills (or lack of skills) as well as follow up on children’s development.

The research is carried out within the framework of two OTKA proposals (K 135478, PD 134984), the Proof of Concept proposal announced within the ELTE 2019-1.2.1-EGYETEMI-ÖKO-2019-00004 proposal and the RRF-2.3.1-21-2022-00004 - National Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence proposal.

Mobile habits and measurement of skills

The aim of this research is to assess and follow up on children’s mobile touchscreen device (smartphone, tablet) use habits and their cognitive and social skills. Children’s mobile touchscreen device use habits are reported by parents completing an online questionnaire. Children’s skills are measured by standard psychological tests online via video call.

Six months last between all the 3 playful online testing occasions. Parents are asked to complete a total of 5 questionnaires, one every 3 months. This will provide a longitudinal and comprehensive picture of the association between children’s touchscreen device use habits and their socio-cognitive skills over about one and a half years.

The research is funded by the Hungarian National Research, Development, and Innovation Office and the OTKA PD 134984 grant.

Good Mobile

Our aims

  • More conscious use of mobile and touchscreen devices
  • Development of multiple skills
  • Safe and child friendly applications

The aim of the project is to develop an application, indirectly teaching children the sensible framework of using digital devices, such as how and how much they should be used. This may be done through the use of safe and child friendly environment, through some fun games which help developing certain important skills. When choosing the games of the launcher, we focused on not only them being fun, but also educational and serving the development of basic skills, such as understanding perspective, algorithmical thinking, etc.

Previous studies

SensKid – Detecting atypical development with a machine-learning tool based on movement

The project aimed to investigate whether there is a difference in motor coordination between children developing typically or atypically (ASD, ADHD). Data collection was conducted with a smartwatch on a live session when children wearing the smartwatch were asked to perform various playful (e.g. froggy jump, bunny jump, swimming on the floor) and everyday movements (e.g. grab a glass, turn on light, put toothpaste onto a toothbrush) with the help of an experimenter. First, the machine learning tool has learnt to differentiate between the various movement types of the typically developing children. The results of this phase are already published here. The second phase is whether the algorithm could differentiate the typical and atypical children based on their movements. The results and publishing of this phase are still in progress.


  • Csizmadia, G., Liszkai-Peres, K., Ferdinandy, B., Miklósi, Á. & Konok, V. (2022). Human activity recognition of children with wearable devices using LightGBM machine learning. Scientific Reports, 12(1). Available from:

The study was funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA K 135478; OTKA PD 134984), by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ÚNKP-21–5 New National Excellence Program) and by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Bolyai János Research Fellowship).

Relationship between early media use and the quality of parent-child interaction

Frequent use of mobile touchscreen devices (MTSDs) often disturbs social interactions or even takes time from spending time with others. This phenomenon could be also observed in families. In this study, we investigated whether children’s MTSD use correlates with the quality of parent-child interactions. This question was investigated via a parental questionnaire and on a live session with free play and a structured play session. Results showed that generally MTSD use was correlated with lower quality interactions, which strengthens the social displacement hypothesis. We also found that joint attention was longer among MTSD user dyads. A possible explanation of the latter result is that shared online activities might help focus attention more both for the parent and the child.


  • in progress

The study was funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA K 135478; OTKA PD 134984), by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ÚNKP-21–5 New National Excellence Program) and by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Bolyai János Research Fellowship).

The chicken or the egg? - Behavior problems and excessive use of gadgets - which is the cause and which is the effect?

Several studies suggest that early and excessive TV viewing can lead to later attention problems and hyperactivity. The reverse is also true: fidgety, restless children are more likely to use digital devices, and parents are also more likely to engage their children with gadgets. The relationship between digital devices and hyperactivity/attention deficit is therefore a two-way street, with bidirectional effects influencing one another.

As only a few studies have investigated this question regarding mobile devices, in this study we followed up on children's use of mobile devices and the development of behavioral problems over time. Parents of preschool children aged 4-6 years were asked to fill in a questionnaire on their child's mobile/tablet use and behavioral problems. After 3 years - when the children were 7-9 years old - they were asked to fill in the questionnaires again.

Regarding social problems, we did not find any correlation. However, we found that the level of hyperactivity and attention deficit in preschool predicted the amount of mobile use in school, meaning that the more fidgety and distracted a child is in preschool, the more gadgetry they use in early school. This can be explained by the fact that parents are more likely to use digital devices to distract or engage these children, and the children themselves are more likely to seek stimulating, intense content.

However, the amount of mobile phone use during preschool did not predict the extent of hyperactivity and attention deficit during early school years. We can conclude that mobile use in early childhood does not lead to hyperactivity/attention deficit, unlike, for example, watching TV. But we need to interpret this result carefully, as the lack of correlation could be due to, for example, the low number of participants, with only 100 parents completing the questionnaire for the second time, or other factors. Generally, we do not recommend anyone to allow unlimited mobile phone use for their preschool children based on the results of this research


The research was supported by the New National Excellence Programme of the Ministry of Human Capacities (ÚNKP-21-5), the Bolyai János Research Grant of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA K 124458, PD 134984).

Effects of mobiles on children

Effects of mobile devices on the cognitive skills of preschoolers

In a recent study we investigated whether preschoolers who use mobile touch screen devices (tablet, smartphone) regularly and those who do not use these devices are different in certain cognitive, emotional or fine motor skills.

Owing to their usability, tablets and smartphones are used by an increasingly greater number of children and at an increasingly younger age. As the use of these devices takes time away from other activities (like social activities, play, etc.) yet offer a different type of sensory and motor stimulation than traditional games, such use may influence attentional and emotional development.

We invited 4.5-6 year-old children with their parents to participate in our study: 20 of whom were frequent tablet/smartphone users and 20 of whom did not use such devices. We gave children playful tests which measured attentional, social-emotional and fine motor skills. The data analysis is in progress, you can read about the results here soon.

Digital Kids

Do children imitate the parents when they use mobile devices?

We made a questionnaire survey with 1283 parents about their 0-8 year-old children’s digital activities, the parents’ reactions, attitudes and beliefs regarding the child’s device use, and how intensively parents use/ are attached to their own mobile phones.

We found that even one-year-old children use digital devices in a quite high proportion (one third of them), and this proportion is 60% in 4-year-olds. The results also show that the typical age when children start to use these devices is becoming lower and lower.

Additionally, parents’ attitudes and behavior influence their children’s device use a lot. Children spend more time with mobile phones/tablets if the parents feel more attached to their own mobile phone, suggesting that the parent is a role model for the child. Of course, parents also affect children’s digital activity more directly: if the parents are more permissive or they teach their children how to use digital devices, than the children use the devices more. Also, if parents regard the early use of mobiles/tablets as being less harmful and more beneficial, then their children use digital devices more.

Therefore, if we want to change children’s digital device use (e.g. decrease the time spent on it), we can achieve this through influencing their parents’ attitudes, beliefs and behavior.

The citation of the original publication of this study:

Konok, V. & Miklósi, Á. (under revision) Digital parenting style and role modelling: parental influences on children’s use of mobile touch screen devices. Journal of Children and Media.

Separation from the phone

Separation from your phone makes you stressed within minutes

In our study made in 2016 we investigated adults’ attachment to their mobile phones and found that after a few minute of separation from their phone, people’s behavior and heart rate changed in a way that was indicative of stress even if they consciously didn’t admit to be nervous.

We investigated university students whose behavior and heart rate was recorded during the experiment. From half of the participants we asked for their mobile (with a believable reason) and put in a cupboard in the test room, while the rest of the participants could keep their phones.

Afterwards, we left the participants alone for 3 minutes while they were allowed to do anything in the room. Besides the video recording and heart rate measurement, we also measured participants’ stress level and emotions by questionnaires and computerized tests.

While students who were separated from their mobile did not report increased stress level in the questionnaire, their behavior and heart rate showed the opposite. They approached the cupboard (where their mobile was put) more frequently, than other participants, which suggests that they searched for the closeness of their phone- which is a hallmark of attachment. They also showed more embarrassment behavior, and their heart rate pattern was indicative of psychological stress- so they showed the other characteristics of attachment: separation stress.

Additionally, in the computerized task separated individuals reacted more intensely to words associated with loneliness, which shows that individuals who were separated from their mobiles became lonelier.

This is the first study which showed on the behavioral level that people show attachment to their mobiles- similar attachment as we show towards other people. The original publication can be read here.

About our research in the media