Psychologist disputes web 'identity crisis' claims

Facebook and Twitter - might not be re-wiring our brains in negative ways after all...
Facebook and Twitter - might not be re-wiring our brains in negative ways after all...

A leading British psychologist has questioned the recent, widely-publicised claims made by Oxford professor Baroness Greenfield that the web is making us stupid.

Htting back at Greenfield's recent comments on the debilitating aspects of spending too much time on the internet, author and senior lecturer in psychology at Bath Spa University Dr Nigel Holt told TechRadar that while the story was "quite a headline grabber," it must be taken with a pinch of salt.

"Greenfield is clearly a well-known and once very powerful academic who certainly has a lot to say about neuroscience and her recent book on the subject," said Holt.

Very little good science

"That said, I'd be wary of these kinds of comments. She has been concerned very publicly like this about the influence on our brains of the internet and gaming.

"She knows, as does every other scientist with an interest, that the brain is a changing, dynamic organ. It is partly its plasticity that makes it so amazing, as it changes to adapt and cope with the demands placed upon it.

"Any stimulus at all can influence our neurology like this. Singling out the internet is unhelpful and scaremongering. It makes good press and sells books but it needs to be measured with good science and I can find very little of it."

Instead, Dr. Holt calls for a discussion about the effects of the internet "on society, the loss of communication skills, the possibility of an attention span reduction and so on, rather than blankly dismissing the internet as the cause of all out problems."

Brains navigating information faster

As far as Greenfield's comments about the real and 'cyber' worlds being blurred by IT, Holt points to his own students' experiences as indicating quite the opposite, telling TechRadar:

"The access to information, and the efficiency with which it is navigated by my students amazes me and it improves each year. Rather than getting lazy, they are getting better, more efficient and more able to manage huge amounts of data. What we need to do is teach them how to gain a healthy sense of scepticism rather than instilling a fear in their parents that their brains are turning to mush.

"As for a chip that helps paralyzed people move… Bring it on… As fast as you possibly can. I don't think gaming is evil. I don't think it will turn our brains to mush. They may well excite people to engage in real-life projects or science, or imaginative thinking that they would otherwise not have the motivation or the stimulation to find their way to.

"Embrace the technology I say. I wish we'd had it when I was growing up."

Adam Hartley