Analysis

Is the internet making teens nicer?

Contrary to popular belief, and previous research, some scientists say all that time on Facebook might be making us better people

We typically assume that the internet is turning kids into narcissistic, vicious cyberbullies, but a growing body of research indicates that the opposite is true. New research suggests that spending time emailing, texting, and Facebook-ing might actually help both adults and kids become better friends and people. Here, a brief guide:

Could all that time on the internet really be making us nicer?
That's what a growing number of researchers are saying. California State University psychology professor Larry Rosen reported this month that the more time college students spent on the internet, the more empathetic they were both online and off. Nancy Baym, a University of Kansas communication-studies professor, found in 2009 that online interactions help strengthen friendships. A 2007 Michigan State University study concluded that students with low self-esteem were more likely to feel like part of the college community if they used Facebook.

But what about all of the bullying that occurs online?
According to a recent study, offline bullying is by far the bigger problem. Forty-five percent of 3,777 teens surveyed reported being bullied, but fewer than 20 percent of those said it had occurred online or via text messaging or phone. Almost 40 percent said it had happened in person. And two-thirds of those bullied online said they didn't even find the abuse upsetting.

Haven't other researchers said technology makes people mean?
Yes. In February, after a video of a newswoman seemingly having a stroke on camera went viral, Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan wrote at CNN that the internet may be "killing empathy." "Have our brains become so desensitized by a 24/7, all-you-can-eat diet of lurid flickering images that we've lost all perspective on appropriateness and compassion?" they asked. A 2007 study of 18 to 23-year-olds found they were less able to identify expressions of emotion after playing violent video games. And, while Dr. Rosen's study found that can help people relate better, it also found that excessive social networking makes some teens more prone to aggression, mania, anxiety, and depression.

Sources: CBS News, ClickOnDetroit.com, CNN, Wall Street Journal

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