There has been a lot of press coverage recently on how computer usage affects the brain. One of the main proponents of the view that there are negative effects is Baroness Susan Greenfield who believes that the predilection for online living causes shallow, fragmented thinking, “Computer use could be cutting attention spans, stifling imagination and hampering empathy, as a result, the parts of the brain involved in these traits will not develop properly.” Critics argue that her assertions are no more than speculative, with no scientific evidence to support it. A recent paper in Neuron written by cognitive scientists provides an overview of the evidence. They point out that "'technology is damaging the brain / eating our children / harming our culture’ stories are over-simplified to the point of absurdity. No-one could get away with a scare story about the whole of ‘transport’ but you can with ‘technology’ because it plays to our anxious stereotypes". It will be interesting to watch the debate unfold.
Children, Wired: For Better and for Worse
Daphne Bavelier, C. Shawn Green, Matthew W.G. Dye
Children encounter technology constantly at home and in school. Television, DVDs, video games, the Internet, and smart phones all play a formative role in children's development. The term technology subsumes a large variety of somewhat independent items, and it is no surprise that current research indicates causes for both optimism and concern depending upon the content of the technology, the context in which the technology immerses the user, and the user's developmental stage. Furthermore, because the field is still in its infancy, results can be surprising: video games designed to be reasonably mindless result in widespread enhancements of various abilities, acting, we will argue, as exemplary learning tools. Counterintuitive outcomes like these, besides being practically relevant, challenge and eventually lead to refinement of theories concerning fundamental principles of brain plasticity and learning.