Teenage minds

A study by Dr Jordan Grafman of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland (US) says that violent films and computer games are numbing the brains of teens, making them desensitised to violence. Grafman goes on to suggest that repeated exposure to such material makes teens less likely to feel emotion in certain situations. It’s obviously a big jump to then suggest that teens will engage in acts of violence as a result of aggressive exposure but it is reasonable to suggest, I think, that they will become more accepting of violent behaviour.

In a similar vein, here’s a small passage from Future Minds…

So what will happen when non-biological objects (e.g. toys) start to blur the traditional boundary between the real and the unreal? What happens when pre-school toys start to realistically imitate many of the characteristics that were previously the sole domain of human beings? For example, would it be appropriate for a child to form a stronger relationship with a phone than a parent?

Or what about what happens when teens form stronger relationships with inanimate objects that are pretending to be living things? What happens to social skills when young adults spend more time alone with digital friends than with real people?

Perhaps such activities will lead to a slow decline in the understanding broad context? Or perhaps the use of digital technology will lead to a reduction in empathy for others. Probably both. In a sleepy town in Australia, for example, there was a recent case where a 15-year-old boy was killed at school after a lunchtime dispute turned into a vicious attack. At the time of writing the precise reason for the attack remained unclear although the boys mother did make a rather telling remark. “It’s like they feel less somehow. They’re so hooked on machines and gadgets and electronic games that it’s diminished their ability to interact with other people.”

2 thoughts on “Teenage minds

  1. What with all the literacy and novels and waltzing we’re just in a morass of moral turpitude these days, and all it will take is video games to finally put us over the edge into our final stage of depravity. Or maybe this is just another instance of the complaints of our civilization’s degeneration that have been going on since Socrates and Cicero. Ancient Greek mothers probably complained about those awful bards filling their children’s heads with tales of glorious violence.

    People have been flying off the handle for the entirety of human existence; we just have better ability to hear about it happening to someone on the other side of the planet these days thanks to mass media, and more people looking for someone to blame for it. (Look at all the people doing things in fits of rage in the classics!) Show me studies that show an increased incidence of these events per capita and I’ll worry about a trend— and the author should consider the hypothesis of population pressure affecting behavior, or I’d hope the peer reviewers would kick it back before publication.

    I think what you’ll get is a selection factor. People that never learn to relate to each other won’t breed; the people for whom a robot love doll is all they need for lifetime companionship will be happy, and they won’t pass on their genes.

    If we improve machines to the point that people form strong relationships with them, we can program them to reward the behavior we prize. Parents might carefully select the robotic companions for their children on this basis. The future could be full of healthy, well-adjusted children with excellent communication skills because they actually run and jump as they play augmented-reality video games and interact with computer characters that reward them for politeness and honesty.

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