Some people really should know better…

As Professor of synaptic pharmacology at Oxford University, Baroness Susan Greenfield is likely to know a thing or two about

  1. Brain function
  2. Basic Scientific Method

In a number of press articles over the last 2 months, she has been touting the line that says basically “video games and social media are re-wiring our brains to unknown outcome”. Recent reporting of her speech during the opening of a new wing of a girls’ school led to a slew of articles of variable quality.

The Telegraph is properly questioning and correct in attributing research where available.

The Daily Mail – almost can’t help but go overboard with the headlines!

Computer games leave children with ‘dementia’ warns top neurologist.

Leading to the Hindustan Times

Facebook can trigger dementia

The New Scientist asks a number of specific (and to my mind, pretty leading) questions in this profile, which she answers to poor effect.


In fact looking at the huge variation between different publications on the reporting of this event is going to be my next post on this blog as I think it will be instructive to look at the differences in details.

So Greenfield makes a number of claims without any evidence to back them up.

The PlosOne study which is the only quoted source accepts that Internet Addiction Disorder is a valid psychiatric disorder (Chinese Government policy, despite not being included in the DSM-IV manual) and is carried out on 18 students. This is not really large enough scale to draw inferences to the population as a whole. Also we are not able to tell if heavy gaming/internet use caused the abnormalities apparently discovered or if their effects led the participants into a pattern of inappropriate computer usage.

The New Scientist asks a number of specific (and to my mind, pretty leading) questions in this profile, which she answers to poor effect.

Lets look at the Shlock/Horror figure quoted of 2000 hours of screen time between a child’s 10th and 11th birthdays and break it down a little.

Firstly we need to take out the time kids of that age traditionally spend glued to the TV for the last 30 years (from my personal experiences both as a parent and having watch the same amount of TV as my peer group, more or less).

Weekdays – 1.5 hours of kids TV daily (whether morning or afternoon) and the same again of family viewing (X factor, Dr Who, Britain’s Got Stupid etc.). 3×5 = 15

Weekend – 1 DVD – 1.5 hours. Sport/cartoons – 1.5 hours. 2×3 = 6

Total 21 hours a week, multiply by 52 equals 1092. That’s just in TV time at home, before we factor in the time spent on games consoles or hand held devices on car journeys, cinema time, class-room PC use, emailing distant relatives and friends etc.

When we consider how much more screen time we’re exposed to as adults given the amount of time most jobs put us in front of a PC for, then a headline figure of 2000 hours doesn’t seem so extraordinary for most people.

So the rest of the claims

  • Addiction to technology could disable connections in the brain, literally ‘blowing the mind’.
  • Children’s brains could be left damaged and they could suffer temporary ‘dementia’ by playing computer games.

are left without evidence to back them up. As she received her CBE for her contribution to the public understanding of science she really ought to know better. I’ve heard the hypothesis…now where’s the evidence?

To End.

What concerns me with these articles is that there is an important issue being missed. There are some people who will use online gaming and the internet to excess and rather than blame the media, we need to figure out what drives these particular people to this behaviour. I’m hoping to look at this later in the semester.

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One Response to Some people really should know better…

  1. I have really enjoyed this blog posting and you ask some important questions. I do think it is important to think not only about if there is any causation but also the direction of causation. Are some children more likely to become glued to tv than others. And, if so, why? I will be interested in what you post next.

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