Third of parents believe web 'rewires' brain

More than a third of parents believe the internet has the power to 'rewire' brains without a person's knowledge, according to research published today.

One in three believe their children are in danger from the web, and four fifths (80%) believe it is possible to become addicted to social networking forums such as Facebook and Twitter, the study found.

The findings, however, fly in the face of the neurological evidence, according to the organisation which carried out the poll, the Nominet Trust, which promotes internet projects that address social disadvantage.

The Trust worked with neuroscience and education expert Dr Paul Howard Jones, who analysed research on the internet and society.

The report, The Impact of Digital Technologies on Human Wellbeing, concluded that there is no neurological evidence to suggest that the internet is more effective at 'rewiring' our brains than other environmental influences.

It also found that the internet is a valuable learning resource and all forms of learning cause changes within the brain.

There have been reports that use of the internet with its vast resources of information is changing the way people think, affecting their ability to concentrate.

But the Trust said that "scaremongering and misinformation" about internet use can potentially deny its benefits to people, in particular parents who are worried about the effect on their children's development.

The report also found that social networking sites, in themselves, are not a special source of risk to children, and are generally beneficial as they support existing friendships.

In addition, playing action video games can improve some visual processing and motor response skills, while computer-based activity provides mental stimulation, and can help slow rates of cognitive decline.

Annika Small, director of the Trust, said: "The Nominet Trust believes in the internet as a force for social good. We fund projects that help people get online, be safe online, and change their world for the better. Exaggerated fears about internet use can potentially deny its benefits to those most in need.

"I want to see a proper debate amongst policy makers, based on accurate research, about the effects of using interactive technologies on young people's brains, behaviours and attitudes, without resorting to scaremongering that parents are being subjected to on a regular basis.

"Our aim is to provide people with a clear and independent information resource that will help them navigate the minefield of misleading information on internet use. And our grassroots projects open up the positive benefits the internet can have for everyone who uses it."

:: The report is available on http://www.nominettrust.org.uk

:: The poll was carried out with 1,000 parents online on June 24.

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