Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Are Social Networking Sites Breeding Antisocial Young People?

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All of these studies have been conducted post-2009, when British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield claimed publicly, through various newspapers and websites, that social networking sites are responsible for harming the development of young people’s brains  (Derbyshire 2009).

Baroness Greenfield went on to state that she believed prolonged exposure to websites like Facebook and Twitter could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain and leave a whole generation with poor attention spans (Derbyshire 2009). She even speculated that the increase in time spent on social networking sites could be linked to an  increase in the occurrence of autism (Derbyshire 2009).

This year, Baroness Greenfield followed up with similar claims that Facebook and Twitter are responsible for creating a generation obsessed with their self-image and who have a childlike need for constant feedback and attention in their lives (Harris 2011). She believes that social networking sites are to blame for young people who have developed poor non-verbal skills, such as the ability to make eye contact during conversations, and further, that social networking sites have created an environment where people are more concerned with how others perceive them than how they perceive
themselves (Harris 2011).

Despite the widespread attention her claims have been given, they are not based on any scientific research and are only backed up with anecdotal evidence. As a result, her sensational claims have been widely criticised by bloggers, academics and journalists alike.

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The psychology professor behind the research, Dr Larry D. Rosen from California State University, discussed how Facebook has been linked to young people showing more narcissistic tendencies as well as signs of antisocial behaviours, mania and aggressive tendencies (American Psychological Association 2011). The report also showed that overuse of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of young people by making them more prone to anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders (American Psychological Association 2011)In most cases negative effects like these are only found when the heavy Internet use actually replaces face-to-face time spent with family and friends (Steinfield, Ellison and Lampe 2008).

Increasing time spent with family and friends in person generally reduced the occurrence of anxiety, depression and stress, even without decreasing the amount of time spent using the Internet (Steinfield, Ellison and Lampe 2008, p. 436). Another negative impact from Dr Rosen’s study was that Facebook has been linked to lower grade performances in students who checked the website at least once during a 15 minute study period (American Psychological Association 2011).

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Source: Bromley, Alanna (2011) - Journal of Digital Research and Publishing.

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