Does Facebook Harm Brains?

Recent news coverage has stated that research has lead some scientists to believe that Facebook, and other social networking sites, may have harmful effects on the brains of its users. For its millions of regular users, Facebook is a helpful tool for keeping in touch with friends. However, scientists warn that when it becomes a substitute for traditional social interaction, it can stifle brain development, particularly in children and adolescents.

Susan Greenfield of Oxford University claims that the structure of Facebook encourages its users to crave instant gratification and leads to shortened attention spans. At all ages, the human brain is extremely good at adapting to new environments and long term use of social networking sites can lead to a “rewiring” of the brain. What this means is that continual use of social networking sites could result in lasting personality changes, causing individuals to become more impatient and self centered.

Professor Henry Brubaker commented on these studies stating that “Facebook may be the symptom rather than the cause”, and he raises an interesting point. In a sense, this is somewhat like the chicken and the egg. Has the emergence of “quick information” sites caused short attention spans or been the result of them? Claims that our attention spans are reducing have been around a lot longer than Facebook. It could be argued that shorter attention spans are an inevitable consequence of modern life; and while social network sites may be part of the problem, they are clearly not the cause.

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