Dear Susan Greenfield: the discussion about teens and technology “needs less shock and more substance”

We have seen Susan Greenfield making claims for years now. This video-discussion is a must-see as Dr Vaughn confronts her with some of her claims. The baroness seem to to ignorant of the fact that there exists something like review-studies or meta-analyses. Watch also how she struggles about her infamous autism-claim, check also here.

The baroness claims that her point is backed by 250 peer reviewed papers, but… Dorothy Bishop examined her literature list.

Vaughn Bell, Dorothy Bishop & Andrew K Przybylski also wrote this short article that is a true mustread, an excerpt:

Greenfield claims that social networking sites could negatively affect social interaction, interpersonal empathy, and personal identity.1 However, the bulk of research does not support this characterisation. With regard to social interaction and empathy, adolescents’ use of social networking sites has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others. The general finding is that those who use social networks to avoid social difficulties have reduced wellbeing, while use of social networks to deal with social challenges improves outcomes. 2 In terms of affecting personal identity, Facebook is the most widely used social network and the best studied, and evidence suggests that people generally portray their identity accurately.3

Notably, Greenfield has speculated that online interaction might be a “trigger” for autism or “autistic-like traits.”1This claim has no basis in scientific evidence and is entirely implausible in light of what we know of autism as a neurodevelopmental condition that can be first diagnosed in the preschool years. Her claims are misleading to the public, unhelpful to parents, and potentially stigmatising to people with autism.

Another of Greenfield’s claims is that intense use of computer games could lead to impulsiveness, a shorter attention span, and aggression.1 Yet studies on video gaming give a much more nuanced conclusion. Evidence suggests that playing action video games produces a small improvement in neuropsychological performance, even when only the most stringently designed studies are considered.4 5 The effects of violent video games are still debated. Evidence exists for a small, transient increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviour,6 although there are concerns about the quality of the evidence underpinning this assertion.7 Nevertheless, generalisations about video games are unlikely to be helpful because multiplayer cooperative games are increasingly common, and evidence suggests these kinds of games might lead to an increase in socially beneficial thoughts and behaviour.8 This shows that content is important in terms of the potential emotional and behavioural influence of gaming.

Another claim made by Greenfield is that reliance on search engines and surfing the internet could result in superficial mental processing at the expense of deep knowledge and understanding.1 There is indeed evidence that when people know they can access information through search engines they are less likely to remember the content.9 However, this effect applies to many situations and is not restricted to the use of technology; for instance, people who work in teams are less likely to remember facts when others hold the information, which allows for more efficient use of mental resources. This is a well studied and adaptive form of thinking called transactive memory.10

Taking the broader view from published research, current estimates are that internet use accounts for less than 1% of subjective estimates of wellbeing,11 and there is currently no evidence from neuroscience studies that typical internet use harms the adolescent brain.12

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Filed under Myths, Research, Review, Technology, Youngsters

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