In many publications on the Net-generation, assumptions were made on the effects that the use of media might have on the structure of our brains. The general claim was roughly that brain structures of todays youngsters have changed as a result of their intensive use of digital media and web technology. Because of this event, we should change our learning strategies towards those kids. All well, but there were hardly any scientific studies to support those claims.
A recent study led by Dr. Gary Small gives us some interesting new insights on the effects that the use of the web has on our brains. A press release of the UCLA shows us the main findings of the study that will be published in the next issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Results are also described in Dr. Small’s new book iBrain (Small & Vorgan, 2008).
The main findings of the study show that “searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning …. web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function.”
“Daily exposure to high technology—computers, smart phones, video games, search engines such as Google and Yahoo—stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones. Because of the current technological revolution, our brains are evolving right now—at a speed like never before” (Small & Vorgan)
The study was conducted with 24 volunteers with the ages between 55 and 76. Half of the group were experienced internet users, the other half were inexperienced. Participants’ brain activity was measured during two separate activities, reading a book and searching the web. The image below shows us the results of an experienced user. On the left displays brain activity while reading a book, the image on the right displays activity while engaging in an Internet search.
You can see for searching the web, more and different parts of the brain are used that are not used during reading a book. Interesting finding was that this only happened with the more experienced internet users. According to Small, they might have learned to use more strategies to engage in an internet search.
According to an article by Judi Lin, Small argues on the Net-generation that the intensive exposure to the web is “rewiring their brain’s neural circuitry, heightening skills like multi-tasking, complex reasoning and decision-making.” But there’s a important node added to this: “All that tech time diminishes “people” skills, including important emotional aptitudes like empathy.”