Oh No! Facebook will change your brain – NOT!

Here we go again, another article from the Daily Mail in its continuing “anti-Internet” campaign. According to today’s piece of nonsense, Facebook is “harming children’s brains”. They quote Baroness Greenfield – an eminent scientist to be sure – who is fearful that sites like Facebook will “re-wire” the brain of children and make them forever babies.

So, firstly, she never actually said that Facebook IS harming children’s brains, she was just raising a theoretical possibility that she is worried about. Once again, the Daily Mail is taking a notion about Facebook and turning it into a definitive statement that simply continues its campaign to rid the world of this apparent evil.

Not only that, but it’s dead easy to argue against Baroness Greenfield’s theoretical notion. Firstly, does she have evidence on which to base her theory? Doubtful. After all, children under the age of 13 shouldn’t really have access to Facebook according to its terms and conditions. But even if they do get involved, how many neurological studies have been done to ascertain the true impact of social networking sites on brain structure and function. I’ve searched the psychological literature and have found precisely none.

Baroness Greenfield is concerned that attention spans are getting shorter and blames much electronic media for this. However, even if attention spans are shortening, how do we know that it’s the Internet to blame and not, say, modern teaching methods which are so focused on results, league tables and so on, they demotivate children and make their minds wander? As always, you cannot easily separate out one element of our world and blame that for any change in behaviour in society.

Furthermore, there is evidence that children who use computer technology actually have a brain improvement; they increase their capacity to pay attention to more things. It is generally accepted by psychologists that our “working memory” can hold only a handful of separate items at any one moment. But technology users appear to be able to hold more. That’s why they can Twitter, check emails, read a web page and make a phone call all at the same time. Something that people of Baroness Greenfield’s generation are unable to do so easily.

So if anything, Facebook is likely to be improving our brain’s wiring, not harming it. The only harm, it seems, arises in the brains of people who never actually use it, don’t understand it and haven’t studied it.

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