On a daily basis the average young person in North America spends more than 7 hours a day online and uses the cellphone 60 times. While that has alarmed some, there may be real benefits in learning and increased intelligence from this social networking activity.

The secret to why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks and our ability to imitate rather than our individual smarts, according to a new University of British Columbia study published by the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences. The findings show that social connectedness is crucial for the development of more sophisticated technologies and cultural knowledge, argues lead author Michael Muthukrishna. “This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” says Muthaukrishna.

This recent study reflects others that advance the notion that social networks, particularly through social media, may be contributing to young people, in particular, becoming more intelligent. 

Andrea Lunsford, at Stanford University studied more than 800 freshman composition papers from 2006 and compared them to similar papers in 1986, 1930 and 1917. Critics of the current digital-social media era would have hypothesized a decline in grammar, spelling and word use. Lunsford found no such decline. In fact, she found a significant positive change. Freshman writing in the modern era had expanded in length and intellectual complexity.

Similarly, Andrea Kuszewski writing in Scientific American cites a study which shows the positive relationship between neocortical gray matter in regions of the brain associated with social cognition and social networks. Apparently, social networks contributes to changes in brain structure and function.

So despite the frequent alarm bells by critics of increasing social networking/media use, there may be some real benefits for our society.

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