Social media sites may dumb down thinking, study warns

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They have become a quick and easy way of learning about everything from world affairs to the affairs of friends. But Twitter and Facebook may be eroding our ability to think independently.

Researchers believe the speed, volume and ease with which information is shared through social networking sites may make it more difficult for us to think analytically.

The warning comes from Dr Iyad Rahwan, an honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh, who said while the popular sites might appear to be making us smarter, any improvement in intelligence was superficial. He has studied how belonging to a network of people affects how we learn.

Rahwan began by asking a group of 20 people three trick questions. For example, they were told that a bat and ball cost £1.10 in total and that the bat cost £1 more than the ball, and then asked to work out the cost of the ball. The intuitive answer is 10p but the correct answer is 5p. When repeatedly asked the questions, people tended to stick with their original answers, which were correct around a quarter of the time.

Rahwan gave the same questions to people who first answered the questions alone, but then were put in groups. They quickly realised when someone in their social network had the right answer and changed theirs accordingly.

He said there was a danger that information-sharing sites would make us rely more on the opinions of others, without reflecting on or verifying such views. – Daily Mail


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