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It seems that the human ability to recognize emotion in others, an essential part of good communication, requires us to spend considerable face-to-face time with people.
One of the costs of technology is that children and adults spend hours looking at media screens instead of human faces. Research indicates this diminishes our capacity to identify and understand the emotions of others.
Scientists at UCLA compared a group of sixth-graders who spent five days without using TV, digital games, or smartphones to sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours on media devices daily. The students who had the five-day break from digital screens did significantly better at reading other’s emotions than their screen-bound classmates.
“The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills,” said researcher Patricia Greenfield.
Prior to the study, all the participants were averaging four and a half hours of TV watching, video games, and texting on school days.
The 51 students in the no-media research group lived together at the Pali Institute for the five days. Pali is a nature and science camp about an hour drive from Los Angeles. No electronic devices are allowed in the camp.
After their five digital-free days at Pali, the student’s ability to read facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to feeling - when looking at photos and videos - was markedly improved. The stay at home digital-as-usual student group showed little or no improvement in emotional recognition. Findings were the same for both male and female students.
“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said researcher Yalda Uhis. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”
Fortunately, it seems that we can improve our social skills quickly if we put down our screens and spend time interacting with people. Five days without electronics might have seemed like forever to some of the students at Pali, but in that short space their emotional recognition skills where enhanced.
Striking a balance between people time and media time would be ideal. It is unlikely we will put our devices in a drawer for several consecutive days, yet we need social interaction to develop an emotional understanding of others—something the world cannot afford to lose.
Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Steven Depolo - flickr
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