Better for brain to ‘study classics than play video games’

Baroness Greenfield says the study, and comparison, of Ancient Greece and Rome would develop mental agility in children. Picture: Getty Images

Baroness Greenfield says the study, and comparison, of Ancient Greece and Rome would develop mental agility in children. Picture: Getty Images

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A leading neuroscientist has claimed it would better for the brains of primary school children to study Latin and Ancient Greek than to play video games.

Baroness Susan Greenfield told the Edinburgh Festival of Politics yesterday that reading the Greek poet Homer would help improve attention spans and mental agility, whereas she is concerned that computer games were linked to behavioural problems such as impulsiveness and aggression.

The former Heriot-Watt University chancellor has attracted controversy in the past for asserting that excessive use of technology could be harming young people’s brains.

Last year, colleagues from Oxford University accused her of misleading the public with these claims in an editorial in the British Medical Journal, where they said the ideas were not backed up with proper scientific evidence.

Baroness Greenfield defended her work, saying the reaction was similar to attitudes towards smoking in the 1950s.

She said: “For a happy upbringing I would teach Classics from the age of seven or eight. I hate that it has such an elitist image, that’s wrong.

“I think that introducing people to that rather than video games at a young age is great, as it gives you a long attention span. In one lesson you can learn logic, structure, language, grammar – you can compare the two which are analytical powers. It strengthens your working memory because you have to remember all this grammar.

“You end up with a full breadth of comparing two great cultures but at the same time some great mental agility and understanding and development of the mind.”

Baroness Greenfield insisted she was not “Amish” or anti-technology but simply making a point about how sensitive the brain can be to its environment.

She said: “The brain will obligingly follow its evolutionary mandate and adapt to whatever it’s doing. It’s constantly changing.

“I think people underestimate the importance of the human mind and giving it time and space to grow on its own rather than being constantly in touch and Tweeting each other.”

She told the audience that current research into Alzheimer’s is “barking up the wrong tree” by focusing on the disease after it has spread, whereas her company Neuro-Bio is working to tackle the disease in the brain stem years before it takes hold.

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