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Opinion

Kids Are Better Friends When They Spend Time Away From Screens

By Adam Alter

adam alter head shot 2013 article image

Reading emotions is a finely tuned skill that atrophies with disuse and improves with practice.

In the summer of 2012, 51 children visited a summer camp just outside Los Angeles. The children were typical Southern Californian public school kids: an equal mix of boys and girls aged 11 or 12 years old, from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. All of them had access to a computer at home, and roughly half owned a phone. On average, they spent an hour texting friends each day, about two and a half hours watching TV, and just over an hour playing computer games.

For this one week, the children would leave their phones and TVs and gaming consoles at home. Instead, they hiked and learned to use compasses and to shoot bows and arrows. They learned how to cook over a campfire and how to tell an edible plant from a poisonous plant. They weren’t explicitly taught to look each other in the eyes, face-to-face, but in the absence of new media, that’s exactly what happened. Instead of reading “LOL” and staring at smiley-face emojis, they actually laughed and smiled. Or didn’t laugh and smile, if they were sad or angry.

On Monday morning, when the kids arrived at the camp, they took a short test called the DANVA2, which stands for the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Behavior. It’s a fun test—one of those tests that goes viral on Facebook—because all you have to do is interpret the emotional states of a bunch of strangers. For half the test you look at their faces in photos, and for the other half you listen to them read a sentence aloud. Then you decide whether they’re happy or sad or angry or fearful.

Read the full article as published by New York Magazine.

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Adam Alter is an Associate Professor of Marketing with affiliated appointment in the Psychology Department.