In studying the practices of young people with respect to information and technology, one of the themes that comes up all the time is whether or not “their brains are being rewired” as they use new media. Conversations about how kids interact with one another through social media often turn to questions of whether or not young people who spend a lot of time on Facebook (or, previously, MySpace, Friendster, and so forth) are less happy, less truly social, or other undesirable things. It is plain that those who study mind science have an enormous amount to contribute — if not the most important things to contribute — to our shared understanding of what is going on with youth, information, and technology in the 21st century.
Today, Prof. Jon Hanson is hosting the Fifth Conference on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School. The idea, dating back to 2007, has been to “introduce to scholars and students of law and legal theory intriguing, relevant research from social psychology, social cognition, public health, and related disciplines and to stimulate a productive, interdisciplinary exchange between scholars across these fields.” It’s a rare and fun opportunity to hear from a broad range of mind scientists about their work and how it might intersect with ours in the field of law.
For instance, Dr. Laura Kubzansky (Harvard School of Public Health) discussed the relationship between stress and resilience. (One data point that jumped out very clearly: the biggest contributor to some terrible health effects is work-related stress.)
Dr. Kristina Olson (Yale psychology department), an expert on children’s social cognitive development, spoke directly to some of the issues that we wonder about in the Youth and Media Policy group at the Berkman Center with respect to social inequalities. Very young children (aged 3 – 5), her research shows, have an understanding of social inequality. Even three year olds are more likely to presume that whites in America are more likely to be rich than black Americans (whether or not the children asked were white or black). Another interesting finding of Dr. Olson’s was the likelihood of small children, each of whom has been allocated a stuffed animal to give to one person, to give the gift to a person who had allocated resources more equitably than others.
Arnold Ho (soon-to-be-minted ph.d. in psychology at Harvard) works on social dominance theory. He introduced the theory to those of us previously ignorant of it (myself included) and showed how new research on the biased perception of biracials (Asian-White and Black-White biracials, in his work) may serve a hierarchy-increasing function.
There were many additional wonderful presentations and take-aways, especially in Jon Hanson’s own closing lecture. My three thoughts at the end of the day: 1) how fun it is to feel allowed to be a student again, where the topic on the table is relevant to my area of work, but is not something about which I know the first thing; 2) how much more we can learn about kids and technology if we study the methods and the learning of mind sciences researchers; and 3) how valuable Jon Hanson’s work on the way we make policy judgments generally is for anyone studying the law or making normative judgments about how to order society.