Archive for January, 2012

Study: Multitasking hinders youth social skills

(CNN) — FaceTime, the Apple video-chat application, is not a replacement for real human interaction, especially for children, according to a new study.

Tween girls who spend much of their waking hours switching frantically between YouTube, Facebook, television and text messaging are more likely to develop social problems, says a Stanford University study published in a scientific journal on Wednesday.

Young girls who spend the most time multitasking between various digital devices, communicating online or watching video are the least likely to develop normal social tendencies, according to the survey of 3,461 American girls aged 8 to 12 who volunteered responses.

The study only included girls who responded to a survey in Discovery Girls magazine, but results should apply to boys, too, Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor of communications who worked on the study, said in a phone interview. Boys’ emotional development is more difficult to analyze because male social development varies widely and over a longer time period, he said.

“No one had ever looked at this, which really shocked us,” Nass said. “Kids have to learn about emotion, and the way they do that, really, is by paying attention to other people. They have to really look them in the eye.”

The antidote for this hyper-digital phenomenon is for children to spend plenty of time interacting face-to-face with people, the study found. Tweens in the study who regularly talked in person with friends and family were less likely to display social problems, according to the findings in the publication Developmental Psychology.

“If you eschew face-to-face communication, you don’t learn critical things that you have to learn,” Nass said. “You have to learn social skills. You have to learn about emotion.”

The Stanford researchers were not able to determine a magic number of hours that children should spend conversing per week, Nass said. Social skills are typically only learned when children are engaged and making eye contact, rather than fiddling with an iPod during a conversation, he said.

FaceTime and Skype are not replacements for actual face time because other studies have found that people tend to multitask while on video calls, Nass said.

Nass is a self-described technologist of 25 years, who has worked as a consultant with many major electronics firms, including Google and Microsoft. He said the findings disturbed him.

A few years ago, Nass worked on a study about how multitasking affects adults. He found that heavy multitaskers experience cognitive issues, such as difficulty focusing and remembering things. They were actually worse at juggling various activities, a skill crucial to many people’s work lives, than those who spent less time multitasking, Nass said.



Media use, face-to-face communication, media multitasking, and social well-being among 8- to 12-year-old girls.

By Pea, Roy;Nass, Clifford;Meheula, Lyn;Rance, Marcus;Kumar, Aman;Bamford, Holden;Nass, Matthew;Simha, Aneesh;Stillerman, Benjamin;Yang, Steven;Zhou, Michael
Developmental Psychology, Jan 23 , 2012, No Pagination Specified.
An online survey of 3,461 North American girls ages 8–12 conducted in the summer of 2010 through Discovery Girls magazine examined the relationships between social well-being and young girls’ media use—including video, video games, music listening, reading/homework, e-mailing/posting on social media sites, texting/instant messaging, and talking on phones/video chatting—and face-to-face communication. This study introduced both a more granular measure of media multitasking and a new comparative measure of media use versus time spent in face-to-face communication. Regression analyses indicated that negative social well-being was positively associated with levels of uses of media that are centrally about interpersonal interaction (e.g., phone, online communication) as well as uses of media that are not (e.g., video, music, and reading). Video use was particularly strongly associated with negative social well-being indicators. Media multitasking was also associated with negative social indicators. Conversely, face-to-face communication was strongly associated with positive social well-being. Cell phone ownership and having a television or computer in one’s room had little direct association with children’s socioemotional well-being. We hypothesize possible causes for these relationships, call for research designs to address causality, and outline possible implications of such findings for the social well-being of younger adolescents. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Does Technology Affect Happiness?

As young people spend more time on computers, smartphones and other devices, researchers are asking how all that screen time and multitasking affects children’s and teenagers’ ability to focus and learn — even drive cars.

A study from Stanford University, published Wednesday, wrestles with a new question: How is technology affecting their happiness and emotional development?

Lucy Gray with her daughter, Julia.Michelle Litvin for The New York TimesLucy Gray with her daughter, Julia.

The answer, in the peer-reviewed study of the online habits of girls ages 8 to 12, is that those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.

The research raises as many questions as it seeks to answer, as the scientists readily acknowledge. That is because the research was based on an online survey taken by more than 3,400 girls, a sample that may well not be representative of the larger population and, because the responses are self-reported, are not subject to follow-up or verification by the researchers.

Among the crucial questions that the researchers were not able to answer is whether the heavy use of media was the cause for the relative unhappiness or whether girls who are less happy to begin with are drawn to heavy use of media, in effect retreating to a virtual world.

But the researchers hypothesize that heavy use of media is a contributing factor to the social challenges of girls.

The reason, say the researchers, is that on a basic, even primitive level, girls need to experience the full pantheon of communication that comes from face-to-face contact, such as learning to read body language, and subtle facial and verbal cues.

“Humans are built to notice these cues — the quavering in your voice, perspiration, body posture, raise of an eyebrow, a faint smile or frown,” said Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor of communication who led the study. Social media, he added, leaves the conversation two-dimensional. “If I’m not with you face to face, I don’t get these things. Or, if I’m face to face with you and I’m also texting, I’m not going to notice them.”

The peer-reviewed study appeared Wednesday in Developmental Psychology, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, as part of a series of articles on interactive technology and human development. There is no analogous study about how screen time affects boys.

The fact that the study was based on an online survey gave pause to some academics. While they said the paper raised good questions, they also expressed concern about giving it too much weight, given that the researchers were not able to follow up with the survey subjects to get important context, including their family circumstances, income or ethnicity.

Moreover, the limitations of the online survey did not even allow the researchers to verify the ages of the girls.

Lyn Mikel Brown, an education professor at Colby College who studies girls’ behavior, cautioned against reading too much into the research because so little is known about the survey subjects.

It may well be, she said, that girls who seek out online relationships are girls who otherwise might not feel social at all.

“Finding like-minded people online and issues they can relate to and work on with others can be incredibly important,” she said.

But she also said the research should provoke further study about the connection between time spent online and social development, and should provoke conversations in families.

“The clear message is also how important it is for parents to create opportunities for girls to unplug, to live a balanced life, and increase quality face-to-face time with the people important to them,” Ms. Mikel Brown said.

Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who edited the article, said that that even though the authors did not find that Internet use causes unhappiness among girls, the correlation that the authors did find was very significant.

The research was based on an online survey of about 80 questions answered by 3,461 girls whom the scientists found by advertising in Discovery Girls magazine. The researchers found that the average amount of media use by the girls surveyed was 6.9 hours per day, a figure that included reading as well as screen time. The average amount of time spent in face-to-face social settings was 2.1 hours, a figure that did not include classroom time.

Some parents of girls who are heavy Internet users said the research addressed questions that they had been concerned about.

Lucy Gray, 45, who lives in Chicago and helps schools integrate technology, said her daughter, Julia, 13, has for several years been a heavy consumer of media — she watches movies on her laptop, has an iPad, iPhone and a Nintendo DS portable game machine. Ms. Gray said that Julia can have trouble picking up on subtle social cues in face-to-face interactions, but she is not ready to blame her daughter’s heavy use of technology.

In fact, she said, she thinks that, on the whole, the technology has helped her daughter navigate the world socially.

“She’d be missing out on an opportunity if she wasn’t connected.” Ms. Gray said.

At the same time, Ms. Gray said, she worries that her daughter, who is using Facebook more, is playing out her social life online sometimes without the benefits of the full emotional range that comes from face-to-face interaction.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Ms. Gray said of the social implications of social media.

Lena Garzarelli, 13, an eighth grader in Asheville, N.C., who spends as much as two hours each day on Facebook, video chatting with friends and using other multimedia, said that the technology, on the whole, has helped enrich her social life. But she said that she felt it could be a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction.

She has had instances, she said, of serious miscommunication because her real meaning was lost in text-based communications.

When people converse online, she said, they “may not understand how I feel because they can’t see the emotion in my face and can’t hear my voice.”



Study shows that kids, unlike adults, think technology is fundamentally human

Growing up with the Internet gives today’s children a very unique view on the way the world works — one that is vastly different from that of older generations.

These kids, the ‘digital natives,” are raised with modern technology deeply embedded into their lives, and form a natural understanding of its benefits. This deeply rooted acceptance gives kids a unique perspective on how technology can be further used to make our lives easier, and helps researchers predict future needs for innovation.

What can we learn from the digital natives?

We asked this question back in September, and it’s one that research firm Latitude sought to answer with its KIDS – Kids Innovation Discovery Series initiative. Now, Latitude is back to find out how technology, specifically robotics, can be used to inspire new opportunities for learning and creativity.



Latitude’s Robots @ School study, which was conducted this month, asked kids across the world to illustrate and write a story that answers this question: “What would happen if robots were a part of your everyday life — at school and beyond?”

The results provide a compelling look on how youngsters feel about modern technology, and most importantly, reveals that tech has a huge potential for blurring the lines between learning and play. Steve Mushkin, founder and president of Latitude explains:

Education and learning are moving, at least in many children’s eyes, beyond acts of knowledge transmission toward acts of exploration and creation.”

With children so easy to embrace robotics, it’s clear that there’s a ton of potential for integrating intelligent technologies into learning environments. Besides, the idea of “exploring and creating” sounds a heck of a lot better than answering true/false questions out of a booklet. Clearly there are tons of new and interesting ways to learn, and technology is, in many ways, responsible for this.

Taking a deeper look at the stories the children created, the survey found that unlike many adults who see technology as separate from humanness, it seems that “kids tend to think of technology as fundamentally human: as a social companion that can entertain, motivate, and empower them in various contexts.”

While this dreamy perspective is partially the result of childhood imagination (something kids from any generation can have), it is clear that kids are eagerly anticipating new ways that tech can enhance their lives.

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss how children look forward to the future and dream without inhibitions, but that’s exactly what some of the greatest innovators of our time have done. Children don’t just react, they imagine, and that’s why this study can’t be overlooked.

Check out the full study, including the kids stories and illustrations here. You’ll also want to check out the infographic below, which is based on the results.


Unlike in real life, our online friendships are not subject to a healthy natural decay.

Thanks to social-networking sites like Facebook, many of the people that otherwise would have drifted out of our lives can now be linked to us indefinitely online, keeping track of us in the virtual world even if we no longer have any contact with them in “real life.” It’s a peculiar situation, evidenced by the introduction of terms like “Facebook Creeping” and FOMO (fear of missing out)into our vocabularies. But what are the wider implications of these changes?

Social networks enable us to cheat the natural order of things. In our ability to pore over photo albums and analyze status updates, we gain access to information that’s generally reserved for a close friend without actually having to be one. We look at others’ profiles because we are nosy, and because we want to make sure we’re not missing out – that we’re on par with our colleagues and friends. Furthermore, social networks create unnatural digital bonds that keep us entangled in unnecessary relationships. Most of the time it’s harmless, but in certain cases (ex-boyfriends, toxic friendships) these relationships could be unhealthy. A 2011 study identified a condition called “Facebook Envy” arguing that reading what others share on social networks might actually have a negative impact on mood. The existence of “Facebook Depression” is also being debated among health-care professionals.

Related: The Evolution of the Web Persona

I believe it is the lack of natural social decay that is driving some of these behaviours. After all, while some relationships end explosively, the majority decay naturally in a slow and gradual process. We drift apart. We lose contact. Far from replicating this natural passive disconnection online, we are forced to deliberately hit the “Unfriend” button, severing the connection in a swift and decisive manner. “Unfriending” is seen as a digitally aggressive act, and can often carry social implications in the real world. (An extreme example: In Iowa, a woman was arrested for burning down the house of someone who had unfriended her on Facebook.) It’s much easier to simply stay connected to these people online, even if we never communicate with them. Thus, we continue to be “Facebook friends” with people who aren’t really our friends.

Is it really necessary to stay connected to such people? Of course not, but many of us do so because it’s easier than having to look your colleague in the eye and explain why you haven’t accepted his or her friend request yet. We’d rather avoid that awkward moment, so we continue to broadcast pieces of our digital selves to an ever-growing circle that includes bosses, acquaintances, and distant relatives. The result? A need for better and more comprehensive privacy policies that take into account these social complexities.

These policies, however, are often in opposition to the corporate bottom line. Consider, for instance, Facebook’s never-ending push for users to publicly share more information about themselves. It is in Facebook’s best interest for us to continue to “friend” as many people as possible, as it provides the company with more data that it can extract and sell. As a result, Facebook is becoming a broader web that documents the connections of the people we have encountered in our lives, rather than a representation of our closest friends. For Mark Zuckerberg, social decay shouldn’t exist at all.

Related: Has Facebook Gone Too Far?

This, however, is not the only option.

One company that is introducing an alternative approach is Path, a mobile social network that uses the principles of Dunbar’s Number in an effort to manage social decay. Dunbar’s Number (commonly cited as 150) comes from the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, and represents the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”

Once users reach that 150 limit on Path, they’ll only be able to add another friend by cutting someone from their list. In this way, Path forces people to constantly evaluate their existing friendships by facing social decay head on.

It will be interesting to see how this social dynamic plays out. If I have 1,000 friends, I might not notice if someone has unfriended me – but I will definitely notice if I’m cut from a list of 150 people, especially if we have mutual friends. What impact will this have?

In this age of social networking, algorithms will continue to evolve to account for the various types of digital relationships that we have. Facebook and Path seem to be taking this in two very different directions, but is either one the right solution? Is there a way to organize our social relationships online that doesn’t lead to unhealthy behaviour?


Tech-savvy kids still prefer personal communication by Jeremy Dickson

The new 2012 ChildWise Monitor survey takes a look at how children ages five to 16 years in the UK use technology and finds that despite unprecedented access to virtual worlds, children still prefer to communicate face to face.

It is the top communication channel for children talking about something serious (53%), for having a private conversation (43%, compared with 13% for phone and 11% for text), and for talking about last night’s TV (33%, compared with 21% for social networking sites, 16% for texting).

However, mobile phones are still increasingly important in the lives of this age group especially kids ages 11 and up.

Six out of 10 children ages seven to 16 have a mobile phone that can access the internet (61%), increasing to three in four among 11- to 16-year-olds (77%).

The survey’s results also support the popularity of eReaders especially among younger children and boys. Almost one in 10 five- to 16-year-olds now have an eReader (9%), highest among younger boys (14% of boys aged 5-10 years).

Reading every day is still a hard sell for children as only a minority of children read for pleasure every day (30% read books every day, 15% read magazines), but most read on occasion.

Seventy-eight percent of five- to 16-year-olds read books at all, and more than one in four read books or magazines for an hour a day or more (28%). Two thirds of nine- to 16-year-olds read online (69%) – reviews, stories, news, blogs and books.

For the survey, 2,770 children ages five to 16 years were interviewed via 108 schools across the UK during fall 2011. Full survey results can be found in the annual ChildWise Monitor Report 2011-12.