(Second of three parts)
Communicating online is not as effective as doing so face-to-face.
When we talk to each other face-to-face, we can see facial expressions, hear tones of voice and watch postures, so we have continuing feedback on how the other thinks and feels. This helps us understand more accurately and readily what the other is trying to convey.
Online, the most we can rely on are emoticons—poor substitutes for the real thing. It is easier for us to “run away after posting a message that is personal, emotional or hostile,” says Rider University psychologist John Suler in the journal Cyberpsychology and Behavior. “It feels safe putting it ‘out there’ where it can be left behind. In some cases, as Kali Munro, an online psychotherapist, aptly describes it… [we] may be participating in an ‘emotional hit-and-run.’”
Misunderstandings often occur when we just text, chat or post online.
Violent video gaming may be a factor in aggressive behavior.
In 2007, psychologists Steven Kirsh and Jeffrey Mounts of the State University of New York-Geneseo studied young people before and after they played a violent video game. Usually, we are able to identify happy faces faster than sad or angry ones.
Before the game, participants identified a happy face a lot faster than an angry one, but they were significantly slower afterward.
The findings are consistent with other researches that link violent media exposure to aggression in social information processing and even psychopathology, such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder and depression.
Not all video games are equal. The violent ones are, not surprisingly, more worrisome.
“Reported levels of weekly violent media consumption, but not nonviolent media consumption, appear to induce a negative processing bias in the recognition of emotional expressions,” say Kirsh and Mounts. “Violent video game play may predispose… [us]… to perceive anger rapidly, when anger is present, indicating an attentional bias toward threatening affect. This… may then increase the likelihood of acting aggressively.”
If we are primed to react more aggressively due to a steady diet of violent media, then it comes as no surprise that we are also primed to show less empathy toward others.
In the past, psychologists used to warn against excessive television watching (actually, they still do). Now, with the accessibility of media, children do not even have to negotiate TV schedules with family. They do not have to learn the give-and-take that is such a crucial part of life.
How can we learn to wait a while and work things out with others?
As technologies exponentially increase, paradoxically, the ways to isolate ourselves also further increase.
A pediatrician in a private hospital says: “At least when the home only has one TV, the whole family gathers to watch the same show, laughing or crying together. Now, dad has his laptop, mom her iPhone, [son] his iPad, [daughter] her cell [phone]—they are all viewing different things!”
“Children have a hard enough time learning empathy without being actively pushed away from it,” says psychologist Jim Taylor in his book “Raising Generation Tech,” citing studies showing that kids often find it difficult to recognize the emotions of other people.
When children spend hours in front of a screen, things get worse. Taylor describes the “triple whammy when it comes to learning how to develop positive relationships.”
First, children are inundated with messages from popular culture that promote entitlement and self-centeredness (think about most celebrity reality shows).
Second, children do not have enough exposure to messages that promote selflessness and empathy, since so much of what they see on screen revolves around violence, aggression, selfishness, materialism and so forth.
Third, whatever time they spend online immersed in popular culture is “time not spent experiencing selflessness and empathy as both the giver and the receiver.”
“Not only do [young people] lack the empathy that allows them to feel concerned for others, but they also have trouble even intellectually understanding others’ points of view,” says Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein in his article “The Me, Me, Me Generation” in May.
Even United States President Barack Obama, who credits his victories partially to the powers of technology, said in 2010 during a commencement address at Hampton University in Virginia:
“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work—
information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you, it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”
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