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

Helping children & young people thrive, achieve & belong: Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

Baroness Susan Greenfield Keynote“It truly is miraculous that something made up of the same chemicals as ear wax should be able to do what the brain does” Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

The Good Childhood Conference started on 10 October with keynote presentation ‘How neuroscience can contribute to identifying the outcomes we want for children and young people in the 21st Century‘ by Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, a leading British neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.

Her story is about developing the mind and learning more about how the physical brain works. With technology changing drastically, she argues that there are bound to be drastic changes in our brains, so how can we harness the power of this technology and development?

The story starts with the brain. To understand this story, it takes a short lesson in the myths of neuroscience:

Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE

The link between your genes and your behaviours is actually quite indirect and it’s only part of the story. The role of your environment and experiences play a huge part in this and that has nothing to do with your genes.

The brain grows through connections between “blobby bits”, and this is what determines how you think and how you view the world.

And what builds those connections? Your experiences, environment and how your brain adapts to these things. This adaptability or ‘plasticity’ of the brain leads us to understand incredible cases of brain repair and the learning of unusual skills, as the brain continually grows through actions and experiences.

Did you know a London taxi driver’s brain looks totally different to a golfer’s?

So, with this in mind, what’s key in neuroscience for the adolescent brain? The answer is the prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that can be highly influenced by dopamine, the chemical that impacts onto your inhibitions.

The balance between thrill and consequences is weighed up in the prefrontal cortex and here, the thrill of taking a risk can outweigh the consequences and, before you know it, the prefrontal cortex takes that risk. This knowledge of the brain and the way it develops can influence the ways we think about environments, the use of digital technology and, what this means for children and childhood.

The neuroscientist’s story puts a particular importance on enriching environments and making for a good childhood: it shapes your personality, it shapes your experiences, it literally shapes your brain.

“What we can do now that we know about this plasticity, is harness the benefits of the digital world and minimise the threats.”

By: SYN Media blogger