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Screen time tampers with preteens' ability to read the emotions of others

Preteens who turned off the TV and stepped away from other screens for a few days were much better at reading other people's emotions, according to a new study. They also managed to have fun, the study noted.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: August 26, 2014 at 9:35 pm •  Published: August 27, 2014

Sixth-graders who turned off the TV and stepped away from other screens for a few days were much better at reading other people's emotions than those engaged with media during that same time, according to a new study published in Computers in Human Behavior.

Background material provided by the University of California Los Angeles, which conducted the psychological study, noted that "children's social skills may be declining as they have less time for face-to-face interaction due to their increased use of digital media."

"Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs," said Patricia Greenfield, professor of psychology at UCLA and the study's senior author, in a written statement. "Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills."

Fifty-one preteens spent five days at an overnight camp that banned electronic devices, including computers, TV and cellphones. To see the impact of doing without screen time, the researchers compared them against students from their school who used media the same as usual. The latter group of 54 students later attended the same nature and science camp, the Pali Institute.

Each group took tests before the camp and after that asked them to determine from photographs or videos with no sound what the emotional state was of the person being shown.

They found that "after five days interacting face-to-face without the use of any screen-based media, preteens' recognition of nonverbal emotion cues improved significantly more than that of the control group for both facial expressions and videotaped scenes," the study said.

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