CALIFORNIA, Los Angeles A new study by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that children's ability to develop social skills is being undermined by the increased use of digital and screen-based media.
The study found that with less face-to-face interaction, children become less sensitive to non-verbal emotional cues, such as facial expressions and body language. The study's findings were released ahead of its upcoming publication in the October edition of Computers in Human Behavior.
"Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs," Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and senior author of the study, said in a press release. "Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people is one of the costs."
Two groups of sixth-graders attending a nature camp were used for the study. One group was prevented from using any digital media for five days, while the other was encouraged to spend time online. Both groups' ability to recognize emotions in other people's faces was tested at the beginning and end of the camp.
The children were shown photos of faces that displayed various emotions, ranging from happy or sad, to angry or scared, and were asked to identify the emotion. They were also shown videos of people interacting with each other and had to identify whether the person seemed confident and excited, sad, or anxious.
A marked improvement in the ability to spot nonverbal emotions was observed in the group of children that did not use any digital media, while the same improvement was not observed in the control group.
Researchers say that in face-to-face communication, social information is communicated through facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice, and body language. The ability to pick up on those cues is important for developing social skills and better relationships.