August 27, 2014
The Digital World And Face-To-Face Emotions
Rayshell Clapper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In a world that is vastly dominated by technology, what are the impacts? Often, people look at the benefits of technology, which are numerous, but we do not always consider the problems and costs associated with its daily use. A recent UCLA study found one such problem with kids who interact through technology: they struggle to read nonverbal cues and emotions and have weaker face-to-face social skills. Specifically, they could not read emotions as well.
The study focused on two groups of sixth graders. One group of 51 students had no technology (smartphone, television, or digital screen) for five days while the second group of 54 students continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices. In fact, the second group spent an average of four and a half hours a day texting, watching television, playing video games, or using the internet. (Some studies show that students spend even higher amounts of time on electronic devices.)
The first group spent five days at a camp that does not allow the use of electronic devices. For some of the campers, the first couple of days may have been challenging, but the camp counselors claimed they usually adapted quickly. The benefits of a break from technology proved that adapting was definitely beneficial.
As the UCLA researchers explain: “At the beginning and end of the study, both groups of students were evaluated for their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos. The students were shown 48 pictures of faces that were happy, sad, angry or scared, and asked to identify their feelings.” Moreover, the groups of students watched videos of actors interacting together. They had to describe the emotions of the actors. In both cases, the students who had been at the camp improved their emotion-reading skills significantly. For instance, at the beginning of the study, the students made 14.02 errors in identifying emotions and nonverbal cues, but after five days at the camp, the first group dropped to 9.41 errors. Those in the second group who continued to use their electronic devices daily had no change. And all of these were true of both boys and girls.
Though social media is supposed to make us more social, and we have the illusion that we do socialize more, what this study shows is that people need more face-to-face interaction in order to develop strong social skills and better learn to read nonverbal cues.
“Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”
Online socializing simply cannot replace the benefits of face-to-face interactions. When we see people, watch their reactions, and interact with them nonverbally as well as verbally, we better gauge each individual and each situation. We learn how to read people, which helps us get to know others better and can even help us know ourselves better. Certainly online interaction does provide benefits, but we must consider the issues and costs as well in order to find the best balance. After all, we are social beings who need human contact and interaction.
The complete findings of the research will be published in the October print edition of Computers in Human Behavior and is available online now.