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Internet use clouds millennials' ability to read body language

Millennials may be much tech savvier than other generations, but all that Internet browsing, Facebooking and tweeting have impaired their social skills. But that doesn't have to mean they're hopelessly maladjusted.

“Compared with people who didn't grow up using computers and the Internet, [millennials] may be slower to pick up on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, tones of voice, and body language,” John K. Mullen, a senior federal executive, writes on the Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network.

Mullen says these arguments are backed by some solid evidence. In his own research, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Mullen argues that exposure to digital media reconfigures the neural networks of young individuals, possibly at the expense of empathy and social skills.

His research also suggests that many millennials are unsuitable for jobs that require face-to-face relationships, and their inability to pick up on nonverbal cues could be a liability. Another study he cites concludes that after spending enough time online, millennials “display poor eye contact and a reluctance to interact socially.”

Being a digital native is not all bad news, though. Research indicates that millennials are great at processing complex information and integrating sensations and thoughts because there’s higher baseline activity in the part of their brain that controls these areas, Mullen says.

Mullen is offering some key pointers for millennials who are looking for employment in areas that require human interaction. You can read all about them in his fascinating blog post here.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 23, 2012 at 12:19 PM


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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 3, 2012

So we're raising intelligent pyschopaths. Great.

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 Paul

He might as well have described me. Just one problem - I'm 55, hardly a millennial. In my research with psychologists on this, if those skills aren't learned in youth, they're never effectively learned. It's just another challenge to work with.

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 Elliot V

Where is the proof? First, manners and interacting with people still occur, even if millenials use the Internet more. Second, there is no real information listed here besides his own research to back up this claim. His research also suggests that many millennials are unsuitable for jobs that require face-to-face relationships, and their inability to pick up on nonverbal cues could be a liability. Another study he cites concludes that after spending enough time online, millennials “display poor eye contact and a reluctance to interact socially.”

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