Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues

A field experiment examined whether increasing opportunities for face-to-face interaction while eliminating the use of screen-based media and communication tools improved nonverbal emotion–cue recognition in preteens.

For several millennia, humans’ primary method for social learning and communication has been face to face. In the 21st century, as mobile technology and the Internet became available to most of the world’s population (Internet world stats, 2013), digital media have become an increasingly prevalent factor in the informal learning environment (Greenfield, 2009). Children today, ages 8–18, spend over 7. h a day, seven days a week using media outside of school (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). Moreover, teenagers, ages 12–17, report using phones to text message in their daily lives more than any other form of communication, including face-toface socializing (Lenhart, 2012). The extensive time that children and teenagers engage with media and communicate using screens may be taking time away from face-to-face communication and some in-person activities (Giedd, 2012). Indeed, one longitudinal study found that the amount of non-screen playtime decreased 20% from 1997 to 2003, while screen activities (i.e., watching television, playing videogames and using the computer) increased (Hofferth, 2010).