Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis?

Jan 28, 2009

As technology has played a bigger role in our lives, our skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while our visual skills have improved, according to research by Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children's Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.

Learners have changed as a result of their exposure to technology, says Greenfield, who analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multi-tasking and the use of computers, the Internet and video games. Her research was published this month in the journal Science.

Reading for pleasure, which has declined among young people in recent decades, enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not, Greenfield said.

How much should schools use new media, versus older techniques such as reading and classroom discussion?

"No one medium is good for everything," Greenfield said. "If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops."

Schools should make more effort to test students using visual media, she said, by asking them to prepare PowerPoint presentations, for example.

"As students spend more time with visual media and less time with print, evaluation methods that include visual media will give a better picture of what they actually know," said Greenfield, who has been using films in her classes since the 1970s.

"By using more visual media, students will process information better," she said. "However, most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games. Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.

"Studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary," Greenfield said. "Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills. Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy. Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades."

Parents should encourage their children to read and should read to their young children, she said.

Among the studies Greenfield analyzed was a classroom study showing that students who were given access to the Internet during class and were encouraged to use it during lectures did not process what the speaker said as well as students who did not have Internet access. When students were tested after class lectures, those who did not have Internet access performed better than those who did.

"Wiring classrooms for Internet access does not enhance learning," Greenfield said.

Another study Greenfield analyzed found that college students who watched "CNN Headline News" with just the news anchor on screen and without the "news crawl" across the bottom of the screen remembered significantly more facts from the televised broadcast than those who watched it with the distraction of the crawling text and with additional stock market and weather information on the screen.

These and other studies show that multi-tasking "prevents people from getting a deeper understanding of information," Greenfield said.

Yet, for certain tasks, divided attention is important, she added.

"If you're a pilot, you need to be able to monitor multiple instruments at the same time. If you're a cab driver, you need to pay attention to multiple events at the same time. If you're in the military, you need to multi-task too," she said. "On the other hand, if you're trying to solve a complex problem, you need sustained concentration. If you are doing a task that requires deep and sustained thought, multi-tasking is detrimental."

Do video games strengthen skill in multi-tasking?

New Zealand researcher Paul Kearney measured multi-tasking and found that people who played a realistic video game before engaging in a military computer simulation showed a significant improvement in their ability to multi-task, compared with people in a control group who did not play the video game. In the simulation, the player operates a weapons console, locates targets and reacts quickly to events.

Greenfield wonders, however, whether the tasks in the simulation could have been performed better if done alone.

More than 85 percent of video games contain violence, one study found, and multiple studies of violent media games have shown that they can produce many negative effects, including aggressive behavior and desensitization to real-life violence, Greenfield said in summarizing the findings.

In another study, video game skills were a better predictor of surgeons' success in performing laparoscopic surgery than actual laparoscopic surgery experience. In laparoscopic surgery, a surgeon makes a small incision in a patient and inserts a viewing tube with a small camera. The surgeon examines internal organs on a video monitor connected to the tube and can use the viewing tube to guide the surgery.

"Video game skill predicted laparoscopic surgery skills," Greenfield said. "The best video game players made 47 percent fewer errors and performed 39 percent faster in laparoscopic tasks than the worst video game players."

Visual intelligence has been rising globally for 50 years, Greenfield said. In 1942, people's visual performance, as measured by a visual intelligence test known as Raven's Progressive Matrices, went steadily down with age and declined substantially from age 25 to 65. By 1992, there was a much less significant age-related disparity in visual intelligence, Greenfield said.

"In a 1992 study, visual IQ stayed almost flat from age 25 to 65," she said.

Greenfield believes much of this change is related to our increased use of technology, as well as other factors, including increased levels of formal education, improved nutrition, smaller families and increased societal complexity.

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

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User comments : 18

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Velanarris
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2009
Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy. Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades."


If I read it on a screen or on a piece of paper what is the difference?

The media is not the cause as this study alludes to.
The problem is not the format but the media itself.
theEXxman
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2009
That's true and if your seen at a library or your local Hastings or Books a Million looking at or reading a book your a geek,gay,or social outcast.
With movies like the Indiana Jones series or National Treasure when can we get back to the time when learning and reading a book was cool. Unless we reach the time when Fahrenheit 451 becomes true and they outlaw books.
lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2009
Xman: Interesting proposal. It would probably work to make reading "cool" for kids, though other negative outcomes may offbalance that. We have enough people in jails already. We could make the penalty for getting caught reading a "detention" where one is required to spend an hour reading ;
KBK
1.6 / 5 (5) Jan 28, 2009
since the populace here is largely American:

Fix your government first.

It's been corporatized, which means 'fascist', if you look up what the word means.

Make offenses made by politicians a capital offense, punishable by death;

Remove the capacity for politicians to be involved with corporations in ANY way, and a capital offense if they are caught working for corporations after leaving office. This, if any association whatsoever;

-No statute of limitations on any of the potential offenses listed above;

Remove all lobbyists from Washington, under threat of severe and open ended prosecution via laws with real and working teeth, and only ONE lobbyist per corporation and only limited contact to or with official offices and done through an assessment board, a board staffed via public voting on board members;

-Limit campaign and party contributions to $100 per individual or company affiliation. No exceptions, strictly enforce, massive fines, punishment or jail time cummulative on EACH individual offence.

-Remove the ability for a corporation to be represented in court and legally as a PERSON, which was granted illegally, if you go and look at the legal decision this whole evolved corporate personhood is predicated on. That court case was LOST, the court reported lied and changed the data for the corporations benefit. You've been hoodwinked!

And a bunch of things similar to that which is outlined above. Then you can being to get your country back and maybe make some real contributions.

Ie, Kill mosanto and investigate all people involved with it. Fix the FDA EPA, ie UN-CORPORATIZE them they are 100% NON functional at this time, and serve only corporate interests. Please investigate thoroughly before rejecting sch a claim! All similar US govm'nt departments are in similar distress due to corporate infection. (ie death of the people and their minds from the inside out)

You do all that above, and you might get a healthy enough environment so that people can think critically again.

The problem is deeper and more complex than just fixing book issues, or some other inane incomplete basis of analysis.
Arkaleus
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 28, 2009
The skills of reason and analysis are closely related to language processing skills. The best way to develop these parts of the mind is by reading and two way communication with others. One way media such as TV and video games do not provide the full range of brain activity required for critical analysis. By its very definition, this kind of media requires you to accept what is presented, and merely observe. That's the kind of human response required by totalitarian states. Little wonder we see great use of television in nations where oligarchy holds rule.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2009
KBK -
It's been corporatized, which means 'fascist', if you look up what the word means.

No, fascist is not corporate government. Corporate government would be capitalist, which is exactly what we are.

Fascism requests that you forgo yourself in favor of nationalism and government. Fascism has nothing to do with corporate entities.
Sirussinder
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2009
Its difficult to predict the future...but flexible paper thin screens will help bring back books in a cool technological way.

But I am one who actually didn't discover reading books for enjoyment until after I graduated high school.

I accidentally got hooked on a book and enjoyed it enough to help open the door to reading more books for enjoyment.

When I was forced to read such dry dramatic literature in school I hated reading so much its amazing I went near books again.

I wonder how many other people have had similar bad experiences of reading books in school will not go near a book? I would say a vast majority of people.

I assume few people after leaving school re-discover book reading, either on their own or by accident, that its actually fantastic to read and let your imagination soar.

I am glad to have discovered a movie with all its modern flawless special effects still pales in comparison to a good book and your imagination. But unless you experience this you will not be able to see where I am coming from.
am_Unition
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
As a college student, I find myself having an increasingly hard time connecting with anyone these days. I don't watch TV, I don't play videogames anymore, and I don't engage in worthless gossip. I am very socially functional, though I find myself not wanting to bother wasting time talking about such petty things. Finding others to discuss things like the role of consciousness in QM and cosmology, or... reforming the global socio-economic structure... is almost impossible.

Does this make me better, on the whole, than the majority of my peers? Who am I to decide? It just makes me different, and a lot of the time, it sucks.

Obviously the population of physorg is a bit biased towards intellectuals. I'm glad to see other people THINKING about the article.

The findings of this study are by and large true, and ironically, anyone who disagrees with the conclusions is most likely unable to formulate a valid argument as to why.

Although KBK has some things askew, much of what he's saying hits a little too close to home.

Does a government want an intelligent populace???

Velanarris is ABSOLUTELY correct. It is not the media, but the content (or completely lack thereof) of the media.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2009
since the populace here is largely American:

Fix your government first.

It's been corporatized, which means 'fascist', if you look up what the word means.

Make offenses made by politicians a capital offense, punishable by death;

Remove the capacity for politicians to be involved with corporations in ANY way, and a capital offense if they are caught working for corporations after leaving office. This, if any association whatsoever;

-No statute of limitations on any of the potential offenses listed above;

Remove all lobbyists from Washington, under threat of severe and open ended prosecution via laws with real and working teeth, and only ONE lobbyist per corporation and only limited contact to or with official offices and done through an assessment board, a board staffed via public voting on board members;

-Limit campaign and party contributions to $100 per individual or company affiliation. No exceptions, strictly enforce, massive fines, punishment or jail time cummulative on EACH individual offence.

-Remove the ability for a corporation to be represented in court and legally as a PERSON, which was granted illegally, if you go and look at the legal decision this whole evolved corporate personhood is predicated on. That court case was LOST, the court reported lied and changed the data for the corporations benefit. You've been hoodwinked!

And a bunch of things similar to that which is outlined above. Then you can being to get your country back and maybe make some real contributions.

Ie, Kill mosanto and investigate all people involved with it. Fix the FDA EPA, ie UN-CORPORATIZE them they are 100% NON functional at this time, and serve only corporate interests. Please investigate thoroughly before rejecting sch a claim! All similar US govm'nt departments are in similar distress due to corporate infection. (ie death of the people and their minds from the inside out)

You do all that above, and you might get a healthy enough environment so that people can think critically again.

The problem is deeper and more complex than just fixing book issues, or some other inane incomplete basis of analysis.

BAWWAHAHAHAAHAHAHAhahahaahhahahahahahha!

Oh man. I literally laughed so hard I cried. What made it so funny is that he was serious.

Thanks man, that made my whole morning. Nothing in a bad morning a good belly laugh can't fix.
ThotForge
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
I'm still trying to connect KBK's comments to the article. Is this really on-topic?

I have to say I agree somewhat with the article. I think we are becoming desensitized to many things, including death, violence, and so on. However, I think we went through a period of over-sensitivization (lol, not a word?) in the past. Think about it. Before we became such modern-thinking, superior creatures, we dealt with death and violence as a matter of course. I'm not talking caveman days, I'm talking about the days that some people alive can still remember.

Here's a couple thoughts you can think about:

I had my kids watch a friend slaughter a chicken for us to eat. They nearly passed out and one kid even can't remember it because he blocked it out or something.

We eat chicken nuggets, hamburgers, pork, etc., every day. As recent as the turn of the last century, we had to raise or hunt and kill animals if we wanted meat.

How many people these days could deal with even WATCHING an animal get slaughtered then eating it?

This is only the beginning of my thoughts on this, but follow that chain of thought and decide--are we evolving or devolving?
Velanarris
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
When I was forced to read such dry dramatic literature in school I hated reading so much its amazing I went near books again.

I wonder how many other people have had similar bad experiences of reading books in school will not go near a book? I would say a vast majority of people.

I assume few people after leaving school re-discover book reading, either on their own or by accident, that its actually fantastic to read and let your imagination soar.

I couldn't agree with this more. I was always an avid reader, I was encouraged to read by my PARENTS.

I know, parents actually parenting, sounds like a crazy Rube Goldberg idea.

I've encountered a lot of what you have am_Unition, and instead of rejecting television and new media I've embraced it and looked for the good in it. I've also surrounded myself with people who can have a conversation about television and then go forward into debating ethics, politics, physics, etc. I'm very lucky in that regard.

Unfortunately, due to time constraits I've had to shift my reading from the recreational to the technical, but without the initial foundation from my parents I wouldn't be reading at all.

The key here is parents getting involved with their children. Parents don't have enough time anymore as in America we've gone from single income families being the norm to single parent families or multi-income being required to maintain a household. The cost of living has gone up too far and too fast and society cannot cope. When society fails, the first place that failing can be identified is in the resultant children of that society. Since we see a decline in our children's critical thinking skills, intellectual performance, and even in as simple an area as reading ability then we know what the problem is and where the solution lies.

The issue is not the videogame console, computer, television, or any other electronic device. It's the application of that device as a stand-in parent.

If you want to fix it, spend an hour a day with your kids and teach them something. Teach them professional nose picking if that's what you can teach but without a foundation from someone they'll know for their entire life, that life will be a hollow and uneducated one at best.
drel
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
On a related note, "Do schools kill creativity?"
That's the title of Sir Ken Robinson presentation found at
http://www.ted.co...ity.html
It's about 20 min and I believe that anyone interested in education, creativity and the arts will find it of interest and worth watching.

I know I'm a little of topic here, but it's related, and I thought I'd pass it on.
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (3) Jan 28, 2009
The real cause is religous cults that teach people to turn off their minds and never question orders.
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2009
The real cause is religous cults that teach people to turn off their minds and never question orders.


Yeah because scientific authorities never make stupid claims like "the debate is over"....

Pot, kettle, black...
magpies
5 / 5 (1) Jan 29, 2009
Yeah also having freedom of press makes for a smarter population too bad the world no longer has it.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Jan 29, 2009
Personally I think it's more a situation of embraced yellow journalism rather than a lack of general freedom of the press...
LuckyBrandon
4 / 5 (1) Jan 29, 2009
its not a matter of whether they use eBooks so people read more, that has nothing to do with critical thinking or analysis. You read a book the exact same way youd read a web page after all.
The lapse in critical thinking and analysis would come in where we use computers to examine things, instead of thinking about them ourselves. That in and of itself is bupkiss though, because someone had to critically think, and analyze all possible outcomes, in order to create teh software checking it.
In other words, these guys completely skipped lookking at people who actually work in the IT field, where critical thinking and analysis is done on a constant basis to keep technology running.
Therefore, my vote is that this research is crap, as they didn't include all the angles. You cant come up with a scientific explanation without looking at the whole of things (at least a complete and valid explanation)
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Feb 01, 2009
It all boils down to this: People are afraid to question "authoritative materials" ...and no wonder ...asking hard questions on the internet invariably leads to reprisals and bullying.