There is a wonderful row that has opened up between Baroness Susan Greenfield, the respected academic and neuroscientist, and other members of the British medical establishment over our old friend, the damaging effects of computer games and social media.
I have a dog in this fight, because the Boy is a near-obsessive computer game player who has been selected by one of the big game producers to test a new, extremely high profile game. Both he and his sister are, like almost all of their age group, heavy users of social media.
Greenfield has suggested, inter alia, that the adolescent brain can be harmed by the above. Social media can affect social interaction, empathy and personal identity. It can also be a trigger for autism or autistic-like traits.
Computer games, used to excess, can lead to a shorter attention span and aggression.
Scientists at University College, London and the University of Oxford have attacked her claims as “not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence” in BMJ, which I take to be what they now call the British Medical Journal. They have called on her to publish them in the appropriate academic media so they can be assessed by a proper peer review process.
Her claims are misleading and not supported by the bulk of the research. They are “potentially stigmatising to people with autism”.
It is hardly appropriate for someone like me to intervene in such a scholarly dispute, except that one of the points the scientists make immediately occurs to me. Autism tends to emerge or be diagnosed at the pre-school stage, before sufferers are exposed to social media.
Plus, we have here what looks like the usual confusion between correlation and causation. Because adolescent A plays violent video games and then commits a violent act, it does not mean one “causes” the other. Unless you can prove that a sufficiently high proportion of offenders play such games as to be statistically relevant, and that non-players have a significantly lower inclination to commit such acts. Which, as far as I know, has never been done.
Both my children seem well balanced, high achievers. Both are doing well academically. Both appear to enjoy social networks that I could not have dreamt of at their age, mainly, I suspect, because of the ease of making contact with the like-minded through social media. Though again, correlation does not mean causation.