Twittering, rapid media may confuse morals

LOS ANGELES, April 14 (UPI) -- A U.S. researcher raises questions about the emotional cost of the heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets from TV, online or Twitter.

First author Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California said that humans can sort information very quickly and can respond in fractions of seconds to signs of physical pain in others. However, admiration and compassion -- two of the social emotions that define humanity -- take much longer.


The researchers used compelling, real-life stories to induce admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain, in 13 volunteers -- the emotion felt was verified through a careful protocol of pre- and post-imaging interviews.

Brain imaging showed that the volunteers needed 6 to 8 seconds to fully respond to stories of virtue or social pain. However, once awakened, the responses lasted far longer than the volunteers' reactions to stories focused on physical pain.

Normal life events will always provide opportunities for humans to feel admiration and compassion, but fast-paced digital media tools may direct some heavy users away from traditional avenues for learning about humanity, such as engagement with literature or face-to-face social interactions, Immordino-Yang said.


Immordino-Yang did not blame digital media.

"It's not about what tools you have, it's about how you use those tools," she said in a statement.

The study is scheduled to appear in next week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online early edition.

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