Intended for healthcare professionals


The debate over digital technology and young people

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 12 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3064
  1. Vaughan Bell, senior clinical lecturer1,
  2. Dorothy V M Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology2,
  3. Andrew K Przybylski, research fellow3
  1. 1Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Brain Sciences, University College London, London W1T 7NF, UK
  2. 2Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK
  3. 3Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to: V Bell Vaughan.Bell{at}

Needs less shock and more substance

Through appearances, interviews, and a recent book1 Susan Greenfield, a senior research fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford, has promoted the idea that internet use and computer games can have harmful effects on the brain, emotions, and behaviour, and she draws a parallel between the effects of digital technology and climate change. Despite repeated calls for her to publish these claims in the peer reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence, this has not happened, and the claims have largely been aired in the media. As scientists working in mental health, developmental neuropsychology, and the psychological impact of digital technology, we are concerned that Greenfield’s claims are not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence, often confuse correlation for causation, give undue weight to anecdote and poor quality studies, and are misleading to parents and the public at large.

Greenfield claims that social networking sites could negatively affect social interaction, interpersonal empathy, and personal identity.1 However, the bulk of research does not …

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