Social networking in danger of infantilising the mind

Overusing social networking sites at a young age can have a long-lasting affect on the brain's ability to perform, according to Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College Oxford.

Lady Greenfield, who is a director at the Royal Institution and specialises in the physiology of the brain, told the House of Lords that children's average sessions on social networking sites are in danger of altering the way that the brain works and damaging social interaction.

She said that online sessions were "Devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity".

Her warning suggests a nation of zombies, dulled to everyday experience, but finely tuned to interact in a fact-paced and click-based online world, "If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder," she advised the Lords.

Singling out Facebook for close attention Greenfield said that children might begin to enjoy the freedom of the online world, at the expense of social interaction in the real world.

"A child confined to the home every evening may find at the keyboard the kind of freedom of interaction and communication that earlier generations took for granted in the three-dimensional world of the street," she said. "But even given a choice, screen life can still be more appealing."