A leading British neuroscientist claims that social networks such as Facebook and Bebo and sites such as Twitter 'infantilise' the minds of users, leading to a generation of self-centred children growing up with miniscule attention spans and demanding to be instantly gratified.

Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, thinks "internet-obsessed children were losing the ability to concentrate and communicate away from the screen" according to a report in The Telegraph this week.

Facebook babies

Regular users of social networking sites needed the "constant reassurance typical of small babies," said Baroness Greenfield.

"I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf," she added.

"It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations."

Baroness Greenfield wants further research into the link between increasing computer use and rising rates of autism.

The Telegraph report adds that: "Scientists are divided about the mental consequences of the digital revolution; a study published last year showed that internet use could improve brain function and speed up decision-making but at the expense of empathy and the ability to think in abstract terms."