Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Empathy Upgrades for "Digital Natives"

Dr. Gary Small’s iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind suggests that current brain research reveals that “digital natives” may be developing different brains than Baby Boomers. A Newsweek article explains:

Small says these differences are likely to be even more profound across generations, because younger people are exposed to more technology from an earlier age than older people. He refers to this as the brain gap. On one side, what he calls digital natives—those who have never known a world without e-mail and text messaging—use their superior cognitive abilities to make snap decisions and juggle multiple sources of sensory input. On the other side, digital immigrants—those who witnessed the advent of modern technology long after their brains had been hardwired—are better at reading facial expressions than they are at navigating cyberspace.

Small speculates that when younger people spend lots of time using technology, they may be neglecting the neural circuits that we use in social situations. Through practice with others, we learn to read nonverbal cues. But what happens if young people are spending much less time with others? Since there is a “pruning away” of under-used synapses during adolescence, Small wonders if younger generations may be deficient in social skills like empathy because they are spending so much time online. He describes one study in which students played violent videogames before viewing facial expressions. After playing the games, the students had a marked reduction in their ability to accurately recognize the faces. Dr. Small suggests that digital natives may need "empathy upgrades." © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

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