HEAVY use of the internet by adolescents has been linked to the shrinking of brain tissue - a research finding that underlines the need for more investigation into internet-driven ''mind change'', the neurologist Susan Greenfield says.
Baroness Greenfield, a British brain expert, says teenagers may be chatting with friends more than ever on Facebook, but the loss of eye contact and physical closeness is unleashing changes equivalent for humanity to that of climate change.
''Mind change'' is the term she has coined for the pervasive changes internet and social media are exerting on brains and society.
The Oxford University scientist said Chinese research published last month stated that adolescents with long-term ''internet addiction'' were likely to suffer ''brain structural alterations'', which probably contributed to chronic dysfunction.
She says she has been wrongly accused by critics of asserting that ''computers rot the brain''.
''All I have said is I am a neuroscientist and I know the brain is shaped by the environment.
''If the environment is changing in an unprecedented way, it is a given the brain will change in an unprecedented way.
''Whether it is good or bad is a completely separate issue,'' she told the National Press Club.
''Things like touching someone, eye contact, voice tone are hugely important … in establishing empathy with someone, understanding with someone.
''None of those things are available on Facebook.
''So, if you are spending six hours a day or more, and your primary social vehicle is through a screen, well all you have is vision and hearing, and you don't learn how to hug someone, or when to look them in the eye.''
Baroness Greenfield, who has been brought to Australia by Alzheimer's Australia, says that dementia, which involved the loss of brain cells, was like retracing the steps of childhood in reverse.
''You are dealing with a mind that does not have the checks and balances, does not have the conceptual framework, can be confused and disoriented … I think, therefore, putting the young brain in front of a screen, a keyboard without the backup of a conceptual framework, is a bit like [how] a demented person might feel.''