By David Derbyshire
Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned.
Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.
The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day.
But they will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens.
More than 150million use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts.
A further six million have signed up to Twitter, the 'micro-blogging' service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves.
But while the sites are popular - and extremely profitable - a growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe they may be doing more harm than good.
Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.
Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said.
'We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,' she told the Mail yesterday.
'My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.'
Her comments echoed those she made during a House of Lords debate earlier this month. Then she argued that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites could leave a generation with poor attention spans.
'I often wonder whether... [continues]
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