In partnership with the Madison Senior Center, University of Wisconsin psychology professor Morton Ann Gernsbacher delivered a lecture Wednesday about the psychological effects caused by the internet.

Her lecture focused on the psychological effects of the internet on human attention, communication, aging and development.

In her lecture, Gernsbacher said there is a history of social opposition to innovative discoveries and technologies.

As an examples of this, Gernsbacher cited Socratic thought toward writing bringing about social ruin, 18th century scholars harboring negative perceptions of women who read novels and university officials raising public concern about the harmful effects of television.   

“Many of the technologies that we look back on so fondly today were once just as feared as the technologies about which we are today so suspicious,” Gernsbacher said.

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Gernsbacher said while some people argue this fear may be warranted in the present day, these viewpoints are a vocal minority and many people actually believe in the positive effects of the internet.

Supporting this claim, Gernsbacher said many of the studies describing the negative effects of the internet lack empirical evidence.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans believe technology has had a mostly positive effect on society, while only eight percent believe the effects have been negative.

A loss in the human ability to communicate or interact is largely cited by those eight percent who believe technology has negative effects. Gernsbacher said these were the same fears caused after the invention of the telephone.

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The internet has affected communication in different ways, Gernsbacher said.

“One of the major influences the internet is having on the way we communicate is by manifesting a preference for text over speech,” Gernsbacher said.

Written communication lasts longer than verbal communication and can be stored, reproduced and retrieved, Gernsbacher said. If written messages are sent digitally, rather than in person or via phone, people have more time to craft a response to the original message, something which is not possible when communicating interpersonally.

These elements are among the key reasons that people are shifting toward a preference of written forms of communication, Gernbacher said. These shifts in preferences make technology prone to future changes. 

In Gernsbacher’s closing remarks, she emphasized how society makes use of these technologies normal.  

“Things will change and they will continue to change,” Gernsbacher said. “[But] I’m enough of an optimist that I want to believe also that any of the tools or techniques or technologies that we have developed will have a positive effect.