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Does Technology Affect Young People’s Brains?

Technology Young People

OK, so you’re reading this on a computer, e-reader, smartphone or some other electronic device. This might be the tenth thing you’ve read today. Feel OK? The effect that using technology often has on a person may well depend upon how old you are, according to a new claim made by a neurobiologist.

Academic Susan Greenfield, who is the neurobiologist in question, and senior research fellow at Lincoln College Oxford, has said that high use of the Internet and computer games can harm the adolescent brain, with teenagers particularly vulnerable. Much of Greenfield’s misgivings are bound up with the risk of autism (see for instance an interview with Greenfield in The Independent newspaper.) While there are studies about the social effects of excessive computer use and the physical (linking long periods of sedentary gaming with obesity), Greenfield’s work is one the first to discuss cognitive risks.

Here Greenfield argues that social networking sites, like Facebook, impact in an adverse way on interpersonal empathy and personal identity.

These claims are disputed by scientists from University College London and the University of Oxford. Such is their disagreement, Medical Daily reports, they’ve written to the British Medical Journal to express what they see as a flawed study (if “study” is the correct word since Greenfield has not published any research to support her proposition.)

In light of this, the opposing academics have stated:

“Despite calls for her to publish these claims in the peer reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence, this has not happened, and the claims have largely been aired in the media.”

Moreover, they add:

“Accurate, informed information from sound scientific studies is essential to inform this process, and we think that it is unfortunate that Greenfield’s media profile means her claims have an exaggerated impact on public debate given their limited evidence base.”

Arguing from the perspective of neuroscience the scientists report that there is no published study that has found that the brain’s of anyone, yet alone the young, are harmed by gazing into electronic devices. So, as you read this article, you can feel fine that the electrons are not messing with you.

Reference: British Medical Journal “The Debate Over Digital Technology And Young People.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.