Digital media, the developing brain and the interpretive plasticity of neuroplasticity

Suparna Choudhury, Kelly A. Mckinney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The use and misuse of digital technologies among adolescents has been the focus of fiery debates among parents, educators, policy-makers and in the media. Recently, these debates have become shaped by emerging data from cognitive neuroscience on the development of the adolescent brain and cognition. “Neuroplasticity” has functioned as a powerful metaphor in arguments both for and against the pervasiveness of digital media cultures that increasingly characterize teenage life. In this paper, we propose that the debates concerning adolescents are the meeting point of two major social anxieties both of which are characterized by the threat of “abnormal” (social) behaviour: existing moral panics about adolescent behaviour in general and the growing alarm about intense, addictive, and widespread media consumption in modern societies. Neuroscience supports these fears but the same kinds of evidence are used to challenge these fears and reframe them in positive terms. Here, we analyze discourses about digital media, the Internet, and the adolescent brain in the scientific and lay literature. We argue that while the evidential basis is thin and ambiguous, it has immense social influence. We conclude by suggesting how we might move beyond the poles of neuro-alarmism and neuro-enthusiasm. By analyzing the neurological adolescent in the digital age as a socially extended mind, firstly, in the sense that adolescent cognition is distributed across the brain, body, and digital media tools and secondly, by viewing adolescent cognition as enabled and transformed by the institution of neuroscience, we aim to displace the normative terms of current debates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-215
Number of pages24
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author is grateful to the Max Planck Society for funding this research.


  • Internet
  • adolescence
  • brain development
  • cognitive neuroscience
  • extended mind
  • plasticity


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