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Our digital world may be causing kids to lose the ability to read emotions

 Actress Quvenzhane Wallis with her smartphone
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

There have been some concerns that in spite of the increased access to information and entertainment with digital devices spending too much time with these devices may not be healthy for kids. Certainly too much sedentary time is not healthy. Science Daily reported on Aug. 22, 2014 that new research also suggests in our digital world young people may be losing the ability to read emotions.

It has been reported by scientists that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other screen did significantly better at reading emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who, as usual, spent hours every single day looking at their smartphones and other screens. According to a UCLA psychology study the social skills of kids may be decreasing as they have less time for face-to-face interactions because to their increased use of digital media reports the UCLA Newsroom.

Patricia Greenfield, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study, says people are becoming aware of the benefits of digital media in education, and yet not too many are looking at the costs. Greenfield fears lowered sensitivity to emotional cues appears to be one of the costs. Screen interaction is displacing in-person social interactions which appears to be decreasing social skills.

This research has been published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The implications from this research are that the short-term effects of increased opportunities for social interaction which are combined with time away from screen-based media and digital communication devices, improves the understanding of nonverbal emotional cues by preteens.

Lead study author Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with the UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, says that you simply can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the same way that this can be learned from face-to-face communication. It would therefore appear wise to attempt to encourage kids to spend less time with their digital devices and more time socializing directly with people.

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