Smartphones making children borderline autistic, warns expert

The Telegraph is reporting warnings from a leading psychiatrist that hildren struggle to read emotions and are less empathetic than a generation ago because they spend too much time using tablets and smartphones…

Iain McGilchrist said children as young as five were less able to read facial expressions because of too much interaction with technology.

He added that he had evidence that more pupils were displaying borderline “autistic” behaviour. Dr McGilchrist, a former Oxford literary scholar who retrained in medicine, said he had heard of increasing numbers of teachers who had to explain to their pupils how to make sense of human faces…

He pointed to research done in the US within the last decade that shows a decrease in empathy among college students and at the same time a rise in narcissism…

Dr McGilchrist said: “Children spend more time engaging with machines and with virtual reality than they used to in the past where they don’t have to face the consequences of real life. In virtual environments they don’t have to interpret the subtle cues of real-life environments like when they are playing with children in the woods…”

However, others have said the reasons behind an apparent lack of empathy are complex…

More at: Smartphones making children borderline autistic, warns expert


Interesting comments from Dr McGilchrist that would seem to have a ring of plausibility but perhaps more research would be required before we can be too definitive?

That said, do you recognise changes in the ability of children to recognise emotions from facial expressions these days? 

Please give us your thoughts and feedback in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. Children have less opportunity to just play freely together away from technology and to try to make sense of each other’s feelings and motives. The more formal ways of teaching children at individual desks and discouraging talk and interaction ( as well as virtual worlds) also does not help them make sense of facial expressions.  When they get home, members of the family are often on computer screens and not interacting face to face, as much as they used to. There are a combination of alienating factors that do not help children develop the social and emotional aspects of themselves.

  2. Lack of face-to-face contact not just the fault of smart phones (what are 5 year-olds doing with smart phones any way?).  Front-facing pushchairs discourage interaction between carer and child.  Too many carers push their kids along while they yack on their phones.

  3. HeatherHolcombe

    batman8616 yeah, I read the piece in The Telegraph, I don’t know enough BUT irresponsible to use term ASC – feels like what we know 1/2

  4. HeatherHolcombe

    batman8616 to use language, need to receive language ~ socialisation crucial to understanding social situations (cultural) ASC something…

  5. shirleymdavison

    SchoolsImprove imagine a child with limited parental interaction to start with – given a screen in a buggy !!!! Nursery so important

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