I like Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist and director of science education charity the Royal Institution, but recently she’s lost the plot. Bad Science picks up on her recent crusade to warn everyone about the potentially ‘brain damaging’ effects of computer games and the internet in the face of absent or contradictory evidence.
And when I say I like her, I genuinely do. Not least because she wrote Brain Story probably the finest neuroscience documentary series ever produced, presented the Christmas Lectures in a red leather cat suit, and replied to me when I was a lowly MSc student after I emailed her following a talk she did on consciousness.
But she’s got a bee in her bonnet about computers and the internet, and keeps making headline grabbing pronouncements that are completely divorced from the actual science.
In this month’s Wired UK she argues that the credit crunch could have been caused by bankers brain damaged by computer games they played as children.
Her arguments almost always take a similar form: computers are about the “here and now” (whatever that means), frontal lobe damage makes people impulsive, children play computer games and experience affects brain development, therefore children could be being brain damaged by computer games.
Apart from the obvious problem with the logic, studies actually on computer use and attention, or computer use and social functioning actually tend to show that people who have experience of electronic media generally show slight benefits in these areas.
This evidence seems to have entirely passed her by. In her chapters on the ‘dangers’ of electronic media in her (surprise, surprise) recently published new book ID: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century she cites not a single study that shows a negative effect of computers on the mind or brain.
And in fact, Greenfield has promoted, wait for it, some ‘brain training’ software that she claimed improved mental performance.
Now, I’ve got no problem having wacky theories, or even reasonable fears, but if you’re the head of a science education charity you should at least read the literature. Oh, and refrain from promoting scare stories.
Link to Bad Science on Greenfield digital worry mongering.