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, some of her colleagues from Oxford University accused the peer 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 critics of smoking during the 1950s.
She told the audience at the Scottish Parliament: “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 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 is 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 disease is “barking up the wrong tree” by focusing on the disease after it has spread.
Her company, Neuro-Bio, which was founded in 2013, is working to find ways to tackle the disease in the brain stem in the years before symptoms begin to appear.
There are currently no meaningful treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 90,000 people in Scotland.