Will Twitter make you morally callous?

Posted by Samantha Rose Hunt

Chicago (IL) - According to a recent study conducted by a neuroscience group at the University of Southern California, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook harm and cripple the moral values of their users. Why? The study claims that those sites do not provide the necessary room to feel compassion or admiration.

We already have learned today that Facebook may dumb you down. This latest study, which was led by Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC alludes to the concept that digital media and social networking may be the home just for some situations. But, in general, the social networking realm might not be so great for certain mental processes, the research group found. 

"For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people's social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection," said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, one of the report authors.

The human brain is capable of rapid sorting of information, and quickly responding to the needs and expressions of others especially when seeing or sensing items such as physical pain. However, admiration and compassion, which are “higher” emotions and responses, require the human brain much more continuous time  to sort and process.

The authors referred real-life examples and stories in an attempt to evoke admiration and compassion in 13 volunteers. The emotions of the individuals were verified using a detailed protocol of pre- and post-imaging interviews.

Imaging of the brain proved that it took the volunteers six to eight seconds to completely respond to stories which involved social pain and virtue. Once the responses were invoked, the responses lasted longer than the responses which the volunteers had to stories that involved physical pain.

The study brings forward questions regarding the emotional effect a rapid stream of information could have on an individual. For instance, people can get way too much information too quickly leaving them without enough time to process true emotion in response to the feed updates of friends and family members. "If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people's psychological states and that would have implications for your morality," Immordino- Yang said.

The entire study results are published in the upcoming edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early next week.