Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Twitter May Turn You Into a Sociopath

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, too much exposure to rapid-fire information through services like Twitter could dampen our ability to feel admiration and compassion for others. They discovered that while the brain can respond very quickly to signs of physical pain in others, it takes longer to process emotional responses to other situations. So, for example, if a child suffered a lifetime of emotional abuse at the hands of her parents, you'd be less likely to feel sympathy if you read about it on Twitter. By the same token, rapid exposure to stories about people doing admirable things also lessen your ability to feel the kind of humbling admiration your should occasionally feel for others. Of course, this is only a single study, and there are a huge number of variables here. Not least of which is the fact that even people who use immediate news services like Twitter or even feed readers probably have wildly varying ways in which they process that information. Speaking for myself, there are some feeds I breeze right through, only glancing at headlines. But there are others that I'd rather stop and take my time with. Often, these are the ones dealing with more emotional information. But on the other hand, when I read on Twitter that Stephen Fry stubbed his toe, it probably speaks to my emotional deadening that I simply replied with, "@stephenfry Fuck your toe." More details here. (By the way, if you want to destroy your humanity with me, my Twitter name is AmSci.

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