The Brain Basis for the Digital Daze of Millennials

6858063937_1fb1b7685c_z[We’re pleased to welcome Tim Brown of University of California, San Diego. Tim recently published a rejoinder to the article “Digital Technology and Student Cognitive Development: The Neuroscience of the University Classroom” entitled “On the Brain Basis of Digital Daze in Millennial Minds,” published in Journal of Management Education. Tim’s interview for the piece:]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

As a neuroscientist who studies child brain development, I strongly support the promotion of public policies that will help edify the minds and brains of our youngest citizens. So I’m quite interested in the recent widespread use of digital media by children and adolescents and the possible cognitive effects this phenomenon might be having on them. Scientifically, it’s a difficult question to pin down, but with our widely available new noninvasive brain imaging and recording tools (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging— fMRI, electroencephalography— EEG, magnetoencephalography— MEG) it should be possible.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

One of the most surprising aspects of this topic to me is how very little peer-reviewed neuroscientific evidence there is (if Current Issue Coverany!) for this “digital daze” phenomenon. This is somewhat surprising in light of the fact that the phenomenon has been well documented behaviorally and because there seems to be a general consensus that the amount of time youngsters spend being “techno-tethered” is worrisome from a psychological health standpoint. It seems that some are taking for granted the idea that these brains are actually being “re-wired” to be shallower processors of information without the scientific evidence required to make this inference.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

I think the issue is certainly an important one and I hope that some of the points I have chosen to emphasize will lead to more and better research on the possible brain effects of purported “screen addiction”. At the same time, as I suggest in the article, I also believe that brain measures are simply neither necessary nor sufficient for making informed decisions about many such public policy issues. Cognitive, behavioral, and academic measures should remain the stalwarts for assessing potential problems like this and for measuring the success of solutions that we put into practice.

An excerpt from the rejoinder:

Given what we know about how brains work, activities performed at such lengths must have some effects on the young brains involved. At all phases of human development and aging, our brains reflect within their structural and functional organization aspects of the activities, both mental and physical, in which we are engaged (Poldrack, Desmond, Glover, & Gabrieli, 1998; Ungerleider, Doyona, & Karnic, 2002). But as Cavanaugh and colleagues articulate, the concern is precisely that these youngsters’ brains are not really engaged during many of these tasks. And one principle that has emerged from developmental cognitive neuroscience research is that the growing brain shows a progressive commitment of resources with increasing age and decreasing plasticity overall (Stiles, Brown, Haist, & Jernigan, 2015; Stiles, Reilly, Levine, Trauner, & Nass, 2012). So in addition to fears that these protracted digital activities might be bad for students, we can also certainly imagine that some of this time might be better spent devoted to any number of activities that we know or suspect are good for developing minds and brains.

You can read the article “Digital Technology and Student Cognitive Development: The Neuroscience of the University Classroom” and Tim Brown’s rejoinder “On the Brain Basis of Digital Daze in Millennial Minds” from Journal of Management Education free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

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Read the August 2016 Issue of Journal of Management Education!

4537055943_82352d7853_zThe August 2016 issue of Journal of Management Education is now available online and can be accessed free for the next 30 days. The August issue features a provocative article from authors J. Michael Cavanaugh, Catherine C. Giapponi, and Timothy D. Golden, entitled “Digital Technology and Student Cognitive Development: The Neuroscience of the University Classroom,” which delves into how digital technology is changing the way students learn on a neurological level, and how management educators should reevaluate their approach to teaching as a result. In particular, the article highlights the negative impact digital technology has on students “deep thinking” capabilities. The authors argue that management education should help students develop multiple literacies across contexts, teaching students reading, comprehension, and complex thinking that may be lost if teachers focus wholly on technology and digital media. The abstract for the article:

Current Issue Cover

Digital technology has proven a beguiling, some even venture addictive, presence in the lives of our 21st century (millennial) students. And while screen technology may offer select cognitive benefits, there is mounting evidence in the cognitive neuroscience literature that digital technology is restructuring the way our students read and think, and not necessarily for the better. Rather, emerging research regarding intensive use of digital devices suggests something more closely resembling a Faustian quandary: Certain cognitive skills are gained while other “deep thinking” capabilities atrophy as a result of alterations in the neural circuitry of millennial brains. This has potentially profound implications for management teaching and practice. In response, some advocate that we “meet students where we find them.” We too acknowledge the need to address student needs, but with the proviso that the academy’s trademark commitment to penetrating, analytical thinking not be compromised given the unprecedented array of existential challenges awaiting this generation of students. These and rising faculty suspicions of a new “digital divide” cropping up in the management classroom represents a timely opportunity for management educators to reflect not only on how today’s students read and learn, but equally, on what and how we teach.

The issue also features a rejoinder from author Caroline Williams-Pierce, who offers an interesting counterargument to Cavanaugh, Giapponi, and Golden’s article, arguing that given their autonomy, students can engage in deep interest-driven learning through digital media.

You can read the August 2016 issue of Journal of Management Education free for the next 30 days by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Journal of Management EducationClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Ipad image attributed to Gustav Holmström (CC)