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‘Rewiring’ the brain

April 15th, 2011

Susan Greenfield

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, warns Baroness Susan Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered.

These claims will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging onto their favourite websites each day – but will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens. The popular website Facebook has made founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg ver rich – but at what cost to human relationships?

More than 150 million people use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts. a further 6 million have signed up to Twitter, the ‘micro-blogging’ service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves.

While the sites are popular, a growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe they may be doing more harm than good. Baroness Greenfield, believes repeated exposure could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain. ‘The technologies are invasive and pervasive as never before,‘ she says, ‘and certainly in a way that the printing press, or the electric light, or the television were not.

She believes that we need – among other things – a major overhaul of education to prevent a generation of children becoming emotionally stunted, inarticulate adult hedonists with tiny attention spans, who can’t differentiate between blasting away aliens on screen and happy-slapping grannies.

Baroness Greenfield is speaking at Science World on 26th May 2011 – register now!

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