Uh oh. Social media is rotting our brains. Or at least that’s what this particular researcher has discovered. Specifically, his concern is that using social media is undermining our capacity for original thought.
So, shall you tell him or shall I?
YOUR ANXIETY ABOUT THE EROSION OF ORIGINAL THOUGHT IS NOT VERY ORIGINAL.
Yes, this guy is just the latest rider on that mass transit technology-is-rotting-our-brains bandwagon. I refer you, once again, to our friend the Baroness, as well as to this old claim about the brain-damaging effects of internet overuse. Or this one. Or the one about Google making it hard for us to remember stuff. And let’s not forget that consortium of video game developers whose experiments in developing mind-control devices “have left numerous, innocent people with irreversible brain damage.”
This time, it’s Twitter and Facebook that are getting the bad rap. So how did this chap establish the adverse effects such that national (and international) media coverage was warranted?
The computing expert studied how being part of a network of people affects how we learn. Dr Rahwan began by asking a group of 20 people three trick questions over and over again.
Let me just say the most important part of that sentence again, slowly: “…twenty…people.”
Dr Rahwan then gave the same questions to a second group of people. They first answered the questions alone but then were put in groups and able to see each other’s responses. Given the first question, the men and women quickly realised when someone else in their social network had the right answer and changed theirs accordingly. However, they did no better initially on the second question, or the third.
In short, participants in the study copied their friend’s answers when they realised they were correct, but did not get the answer right themselves when left unaided.
And, when you think about it, this is just like social media because it involves, well, people and, erm, people saying stuff.
Hence: Twitter makes you STUPID. But of course!
Well I’m certainly convinced. Generally speaking, all channels of communication should be treated with caution. Because, in the end, that’s how bad ideas get communicated. Through communication channels. I’m telling you: we were much better off as a species before we developed language.
That’s when things really began going downhill.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.