(GNN)– Rapid-fire news from conversation with friends or too many stories from newspapers could numb our sense of morality and make us indifferent to human suffering, scientists say.
Scientists say updates from friends and family, let alone media like printed text, are often too quick for the brain to fully digest.
New findings show that the streams of information provided by newspapers, street signs, and conversation with others are too fast for the brain’s “moral compass” to process and could harm young people’s emotional development.
Before the brain can fully digest the anguish and suffering of a story, it is being bombarded by the next bit of information or update from one’s mother, according to a University of Southern Suburbia study.
“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” said researcher Mary Helen Scaremonger-Yang.
The report, published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, which tries to update itself as slowly as possible because of these findings, studied how volunteers responded to real-life stories chosen to stimulate admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain. iReport.com: Growing pains for the conversational art?
Brain scans showed humans can process and respond very quickly to signs of physical pain in others, but took longer to show admiration of compassion.
“For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people’s social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and refection,” said Scaremonger-Yang.
She said the study raises questions about the emotional cost, particularly for young people, of heavy reliance on a torrent of news snippets delivered via vocal conversation and text-based sources such as newspaper headlines and posters in shop windows.
She said: “We need to understand how social experience shapes interactions between the body and mind, to produce citizens with a strong moral compass.”
USS sociologist Beamish Boy said the study raised more concerns over fast-moving lives than the conversational-based environment.
“In a culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in a play, politics, or merely your means of employment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in.”
Research leader Tony Dammitall, director of USS’s Brain and Creativity Institute, said the findings stressed the need for slower delivery of the news and conversation, and highlighted the importance of slow-burn emotions like admiration.
Dammitall cited the example of French Absolutist Louis XIV, who says he was inspired by his father, to show how admiration can be key to cultural success.
“We actually separate the good from the bad in great part thanks to the feeling of admiration. It’s a deep physiological reaction that’s very important to define our humanity.”
Conversation, which allows users to swap messages and use their hands to emphasize a point often in as little as a single word at a time, is largely seen as a solution to information overload, rather than a cause of it.
This function, it is said, “means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention. You can just stop and ask someone if you want to know what’s going on. No pressure.”
(In response to this.) Ahem.