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Can Twitter and YouTube make you stupid?

Can watching YouTube make you stupid? Maybe. The latest research indicates that while watching YouTube clips and sharing them on Twitter might be fun, it makes no improvement at all to our working memory.

Working memory is our ability to store and manipulate information for a brief time. It is typically measured by dual-tasks, where the individual has to remember an item while simultaneously processing a sometimes unrelated piece of information. In other words, working memory helps us multi-task and learn new stuff. It’s our mental sticky-note and explains why it is easier to do two different tasks (one verbal and one visual) than two similar tasks (e.g., two visual)

Working memory predicts learning outcomes independently of IQ. It’s important because working memory measures our capacity to acquire knowledge rather than simply remember what we have already learned.

A British researcher, Dr Alloway states that short form communication such as Twitter is harming our ability to remember. She describes Twitter as an “endless stream” that doesn’t allow users to process or manipulate what they’re seeing. “It’s not a dialogue,” reports Dr Alloway who is the Director of the Center for Memory and Learning at the University of Stirling. She had the same judgement for YouTube. She claimed children who watch too much TV and videos are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. “A TV programme may be 30 minutes long. A YouTube clip is only a minute or so – your attention span is being reduced and you’re not really engaging your brain and developing your neural connections to engage on a longer basis,” she said. It’s not all bad news, however. Other forms of communication, such as Facebook, might be helping to train our brains.

“Social networking sites like Facebook might help working memory, because when we use them we feel more part of a larger community,” Alloway claims.

So, if you want to get smarter, don’t tweet. Try a little socializing on Facebook, play Sudoku, or blog.

  1. andersj
    October 13, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    People get headlines when they do one of two things: 1) do research that is geared to point out that something that seems entertaining is “bad” for us; 2) do research that is geared to point out that something that seems entertaining is “good” for us. These sorts of small studies have been published on TV violence, video games, MMORPG’s and more. Most of the time these people are going into their assessments with a pre-formed notion of the result, and most studies can have all sorts of holes shot through their methodologies.

    When we look at the big picture in regard to media effects, we generally find that the truth is that all media at some points in some derivations can be considered either “good” or “bad” for us, and media effects vary due to multiple variables including the different people accessing the content, the different environments in which the content is being experienced and the quality and type of content that is being consumed.

  2. andersj
    October 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Hey, check this out:

    Using the Internet makes people smarter, study finds;
    UCLA research finds that online searching can increase brain activity in older adults
    By Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld

    • Paul Wagner
      October 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm

      OMIGOSH! I also saw that today and thought of your comments on this blog. You are correct, there’s the good and the bad and the ‘proof’ to back it up!

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