The Impact of Digital Technologies on Human Well being – Report from Nominet Trust published

According to a recent study published today undertaken by the Nominet Trust, eighty per cent of parents believe that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have the ability to take over their children’s lives. And one in three parents believes the internet has the power to ‘rewire’ brains without a person’s knowledge and thinks their children are in danger from the web.

The poll of 1,000 parents was carried out by the Nominet Trust who worked alongside Dr Paul Howard Jones, a Neuroscientist from Bristol University, to analyse the research on the internet and society.

The report “The Impact of Digital Technologies on Human Well being” aims to highlight what neuroscience can realistically tell us about the implications of using interactive technologies on young people’s brains, behaviours and attitudes. The report also seeks to debunk the myths, scaremongering and misinformation that some adults may be led to believe.

The report concludes that there is no neurological evidence to suggest that the internet is any more effective at ‘rewiring’ brains than any other environmental influences, despite people’s fears. In fact the report highlights many positives of the internet as well as possible risks. The report highlights that the internet can be an important learning resources for children and young people and that all learning resources cause changes within the brain.

Key points from the Executive Summary include

Rather than label any type of technology as being good or bad for our brain, it is how specific applications are created and used (by who, when and what for) that determine their impact.”

Existing forms of online communication for supporting existing friendships are generally beneficial for their users, with little basis for considering that social network sites and online communication, in themselves, are a source of special risk to children. Internet-related abuse (eg inappropriate sexual solicitation, cyberbullying) appears related to issues beyond the use of the internet”

 “The internet is a valuable learning resource and all learning involves changes in the brain. Some technology-based types of training can improve working memory, and others can provide mental stimulation that helps slow cognitive decline”

 “Some types of gaming (whether on-line or off line) can improve visual processing and motor response skills, prompting suggestions that games may represent a particularly effective way to enhance brain plasticity across the lifespan. The mechanisms involved are still not understood, but may help explain the effectiveness of such games to also influence affective response. Playing violent and pro-social video games generally shifts behavioural tendencies towards aggressiveness and empathy respectively. Gaming can strongly engage the brain’s reward system, and this may also help explain their attractiveness.”

 “Internet use (including online gaming) is problematic when it regularly interferes with normal daily living and is difficult to control, although internet/gaming addictions have not been established as psychiatric disorders. No particular threshold has been identified that can be defined as excessive use, but research supports a guideline of maximum two hours total screen-based entertainment per day for children. Problematic internet usage is associated with a range of psychosocial difficulties, but the internet can also support mental health through online therapeutic treatment for a range of mental health disorders.

 “…some applications can be a distraction, suggesting parental monitoring of younger students’ use of technology may benefit learning outcomes. For example, adult students who make substantial use of instant messaging consider they are distracted by it, and such heavy “multitasking” does not appear to improve the ability to switch attention between applications.”

The report states: “The ability to understand risk: that is, an appreciation of the likelihood and consequence of a possible outcome, is also something that requires further consideration.

The report suggests that further research is required to help support parents and their children as well as school, to appropriately assess and act upon any risks. It states that “Parents and their children would benefit from clearer independent information about where a significant body of research indicates potential risks from a particular technology application…Academic achievement and student wellbeing would benefit from schools having access to curriculum and teaching resources aimed at delivering skills to students that enable their ‘hygienic’ use of internet and digital technology. These resources would help schools equip students with the knowledge and understanding required to guide their own use of technology.”

Annika Small, director of Nominet, said: ‘The Nominet Trust believes in the internet as a force for social good. We fund projects that help people get online, be safe online, and change their world for the better. Exaggerated fears about internet use can potentially deny its benefits to those most in need. I want to see a proper debate amongst policy makers, based on accurate research, about the effects of using interactive technologies on young people’s brains, behaviours and attitudes, without resorting to scaremongering that parents are being subjected to on a regular basis. Our aim is to provide people with a clear and independent information resource that will help them navigate the minefield of misleading information on internet use.”

The full report can be found here


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