Baroness Susan Greenfield – How modern tech impacts on brains of children

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“Do we really want to live in a world where people have no self esteem, are narcissistic and have no empathy when you talk to them?”

This was one of the key questions Baroness Susan Greenfield asked in her keynote presentation on the second day of the Good Childhood Conference.

Thanks to technology, we have more leisure time than ever before. This means we have the greatest ever opportunity for developing the human mind. Susan expressed fear that we are not taking the opportunity to do so.

She argues that, as social media use has increased, face-to-face interaction has decreased. When you meet someone face-to-face, your words make up only 10% of meaning communicated. Social media narrows communication, as it doesn’t include things like body language, tone of voice and physical contact.

Susan argued that if we use social media too much, we lose these face-to-face communication skills. As a result, we feel uncomfortable in social situations, and so continue to avoid them in favour of social media.

Social media encourages us to disclose personal information with people we don’t know well, and Susan said their responses to this information cause low self esteem. But it’s not only self-confidence that she was concerned about.

Susan indicated use of technology was prompting a range of health problems:

Autism

“There is a link between autism-like behaviour and screen time”

Susan said there was a link between the typical brain wave response present in problematic face recognition, a characteristic of autism, and heavy internet users.

Gaming & gambling

Baroness Susan Greenfield on gaming
Baroness Susan Greenfield argued for some of the negatives of gaming, such as people hiding behind fictitious characters or avatars.

Susan said children who are addicted to video games have similar brains to problem gamblers. She cited this article in UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph’.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Susan said she would “like to flag that there are certain elements of gaming that can be good for you.” These elements included using video games to help people with disabilities to rehearse situations which may be difficult in real life. She also acknowledged that technology is good for input-output mental processing, and may be responsible for increasing IQ’s, but stressed that humans are designed for a deeper level of thinking than simple input-output processes.

Susan asked:

“Could the people who Tweet a lot be in some kind of existential crisis?”

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

There has been a great rise in diagnosis of ADHD in the developed world. Susan suggested the intense stimulation provided by video games and the instantaneous flow of information on the internet leads children’s minds to adapt to this pace of thinking. When these children are placed in slower paced situations, their minds race and they are unable to slow them.

What do you think? Are social media users undergoing existential crisis? Are people becoming more narcissistic and less empathetic as a result of technology?

You can find out more about Susan Greenfield and her research here.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media

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