A new study has found that people who spend the most time browsing social media, especially Facebook, showed some traits similar to those of the autism spectrum disorder, including an inability to read facial emotions.

The study, by the University of the Sunshine Coast, compared 200 people who grew up without Facebook to those who have had social media part of their lives while growing up.

Senior psychology lecturer Dr Rachael Sharman said the findings, although not surprising, were worrying.

“What we found is that the generation that grew up with Facebook were scoring in the autism level and were bad at recognising the correct emotion,” Dr Sharman told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Steve Austin.

“They also had fewer friends and they had poorer friendship quality, which lead onto poorer psychological well being.”

Similar research has been conducted in the United Kingdom and France with the same findings.

“In France they’ve labelled it virtual autism — the idea that if you’re raising your child on screens, they’re not having social interactions or learning basic social skills,” Dr Sharman said.

“What they’re saying is kids are developing symptoms that are similar to autism or on the autism spectrum.

“With this Australian sample we focused on facial recognition and the ability to look at a face and deduce the emotion.”

Dr Sharman conducted the study with psychology honours student Tharen Kander. “Reading facial emotions is a learned behaviour,” Dr Sharman said. “You have to have experience and exposure to it, and older people are often better at doing it as they are well practised. This is why we were interested to see to what extent this life on screen could be thwarting young people’s development socially.”

– Jessica Hinchliffe

Read More: Too Much Social Media Could Hamper Your Child’s Ability to Read Facial Emotions

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