Does today's youth have a different brain?

In an interview with AFT (Agence France Presse), Olivier Houdé, a psychologist and specialist in child development, explains what's different about the brains of children who were born and have grown up in the digital age (ages 12-24). What do the brain capacities of this “generation Z" look like? Have they improved or worsened due to contact with computers, tablets and smartphones?

The director of the Laboratory for the Psychology of Child Development and Education at CNRS-La Sorbonne explains that digital “natives” have developed cognitive abilities in terms of speed and automation to the detriment of critical reasoning and self-control. This “struggle” between decision-making speed and reasoning plays out in the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain. It’s here that resources are distributed between two complementary brain systems. The first system, increasingly solicited by the presence of screens, is fast, automatic and intuitive (O. Houdé uses the term “Cerebral highway” for the eye to finger-on-screen trajectory). The second system is slower and more reflective. According to the psychologist, for generation Z, the prefrontal cortex is where the "cognitive resistance" takes place. Intelligence plays a rule in this struggle. Children and adolescents must be made aware that it's sometimes necessary to take the time to think and reason rather than continuously acting intuitively and too quickly. We must resist the temptation to frantically click on the next piece of information, or another application, and take back control of the screen to give ourselves more time for reflection.

O. Houdé explains that this process in which the brain resists itself continues throughout the child’s development and into adolescence. This is why he recommends learning and schooling to support the brain "mutations" brought on by the digital age in order to teach children to resist the desire for speed. While the applications still require further exploration, it’s important to consider the role of what he calls "the pedagogy of cognitive control" in reasoning, reading, mathematics, and other areas.

Beyond education, O. Houdé also sees a social benefit in learning cognitive resistance that encourages tolerance particularly when it comes to respecting other people’s viewpoints.


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