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Is Twitter making you STUPID? Social networking sites are making it hard for people to think for themselves


They have become a quick and easy way of learning about everything from world affairs to the affairs of friends. 

But Twitter and Facebook may be eroding our ability to think.

Researchers believe speed, volume and ease with which information is shared through social networking sites may be making it more difficult for us to think analytically.

The warning comes from Dr Iyad Rahwan, an honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh, who said that while the popular sites may appear to be making us smarter, any improvement in intelligence is merely superficial.

The computing expert studied how being part of a network of people affects how we learn.

Dr Rahwan began by asking a group of 20 people three trick questions over and over again.

For example they were told that bat and ball cost £1.10 in total and that the bat cost £1 more than the ball, and then they were asked to work out how much the ball costs.

The intuitive answer is 10p but the correct answer is actually 5p.

Despite being repeatedly asked the questions, people tended to stick with their original answers and only got them correct around a quarter of the time.

Dr Rahwan then gave the same questions to a second group of people.  They first answered the questions alone but then were put in groups and able to see each other’s responses.

Given the first question, the men and women quickly realised when someone else in their social network had the right answer and changed theirs accordingly.

However, they did no better initially on the second question, or the third.

This surprised Dr Rahwan, who said it suggests that the volunteers were copying the answers without putting any real thought into what they were doing.

By not computing that they shouldn’t rush in with their first answer but take time to think the question over, they fell into the same trap each time.

“This could erode our ability to think critically and make us lazy because we assume that there will always be someone else who knows the answer”, says Dr Rahwan. And while much of the information we glean will be helpful, there is a chance we will believe dangerous advice.

The researcher, who has a Facebook account but hasn’t used it for months, advises that we take more time to stop and think for ourselves and that we carry out detailed research on important topics.

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