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The Wired Child Series: Q and A with Media Psychologist

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The wired world is a new frontier for psychologists and neuroscientists, who are starting to discover interesting impacts persistent technology use has on the brain. Navigating the latest science on the subject will be the focus of the Museum’s first fall adult course, The Wired Child: How 21st Century Technology Affects the Brain, which kicks off on Thursday, September 15, in the Sackler Educational Laboratory. Guest lecturers include Dr. Pamela Rutledge, media psychologist and expert blogger for Psychology Today, who will be leading the course on Thursday, October 6.

Rutledge recently answered a few questions about the field.

Is our current technology shift all that different from major media advances in the past?

Every major shift causes a commotion because it’s new. Socrates didn’t like the idea of writing because he didn’t think people would be able to remember anything anymore. The Catholic Church wasn’t comfortable with Gutenberg printing Bibles since they were no longer the middleman between the scriptures and common man. The brain really likes certainty. That’s why it’s great at identifying patterns, a feature that was fundamental to our survival. When we don’t have certainty about our environment, it triggers a danger response in the brain and can make us anxious.

Many parents are anxious about the effects of new media on children and adolescents. What is the biggest misconception adults have about these technologies?

Parents often assume that the world of their kids is the world they grew up in and know. But when we look at new technology, we have to ask not just what world our kids are living in now, but what world we need to prepare them for so they can succeed. For example, there’s a lot of research about how children don’t have time to concentrate on a single thing. But in a world where information is everywhere—and where analysis and synthesis are the skills needed for success—we want to teach them to quickly recognize quality information. We tend to villainize technology because it’s new and challenges our assumptions without looking for fundamental positives.

Media psychology is a field that is rapidly evolving. How do you handle those changes?

I try not to worry about whether a specific technology is better or worse than the last. I look for the human goals that are attached to its use. Human goals haven’t changed nearly as fast as technology. The fundamental drivers of human behavior, such as social connection, are just part of our brain’s operating system.

Click here to buy tickets for The Wired Child.

Tags: Brain, Family

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