Reading This Will Change Your Brain
2008-10-21 0:00

From: newsweek.com


A leading neuroscientist says processing digital information can rewire your circuits. But is it evolution?

Is technology changing our brains? A new study by UCLA neuroscientist Gary Small adds to a growing body of research that says it is. And according to Small's new book, "iBRAIN: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," a dramatic shift in how we gather information and communicate with one another has touched off an era of rapid evolution that may ultimately change the human brain as we know it. "Perhaps not since early man first discovered how to use a tool has the human brain been affected so quickly and so dramatically," he writes. "As the brain evolves and shifts its focus towards new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills."

The impact of technology on our circuitry should not come as a surprise. The brain's plasticity—it's ability to change in response to different stimuli—is well known. Professional musicians have more gray matter in brain regions responsible for planning finger movements. And athletes' brains are bulkier in areas that control hand-eye coordination. That's because the more time you devote to a specific activity, the stronger the neural pathways responsible for executing that activity become. So it makes sense that people who process a constant stream of digital information would have more neurons dedicated to filtering that information. Still, that's not the same thing as evolution.

To see how the Internet might be rewiring us, Small and colleagues monitored the brains of 24 adults as they performed a simulated Web search, and again as they read a page of text. During the Web search, those who reported using the Internet regularly in their everyday lives showed twice as much signaling in brain regions responsible for decision-making and complex reasoning, compared with those who had limited Internet exposure. The findings, to be published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, suggest that Internet use enhances the brain's capacity to be stimulated, and that Internet reading activates more brain regions than printed words. The research adds to previous studies that have shown that the tech-savvy among us possess greater working memory (meaning they can store and retrieve more bits of information in the short term), are more adept at perceptual learning (that is, adjusting their perception of the world in response to changing information), and have better motor skills.

Small says these differences are likely to be even more profound across generations, because younger people are exposed to more technology from an earlier age than older people. He refers to this as the brain gap. On one side, what he calls digital natives—those who have never known a world without e-mail and text messaging—use their superior cognitive abilities to make snap decisions and juggle multiple sources of sensory input. On the other side, digital immigrants—those who witnessed the advent of modern technology long after their brains had been hardwired—are better at reading facial expressions than they are at navigating cyberspace. "The typical immigrant's brain was trained in completely different ways of socializing and learning, taking things step-by-step and addressing one task at a time," he says. "Immigrants learn more methodically and tend to execute tasks more precisely."

But whether natural selection will favor one skill set over the other remains to be seen. For starters, there's no reason to believe the two behaviors are mutually exclusive. In fact, a 2005 Kaiser study found that young people who spent the most time engaged with high-technology also spent the most time interacting face-to-face, with friends and family. And as Small himself points out, digital natives and digital immigrants can direct their own neural circuitry—reaping the cognitive benefits of modern technology while preserving traditional social skills—simply by making time for both.

In the meantime, modern technology, and the skills it fosters, is evolving even faster than we are. There's no telling whether future iterations of computer games, online communities and the like will require more or less of the traditional social skills and learning strategies that we've spent so many eons cultivating. "Too many people write about this as if kids are in one country and adults are in another," says James Gee, a linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. What the future brain will look like is still anybody's guess.

Article from: http://www.newsweek.com/id/163924



Related Articles
Brain Machine Interfaces
How Does The Brain Make Conscious Decisions?
The Global Brain (Video)
Mind at Light Speed - A New Kind of Intelligence


Latest News from our Front Page

Hypercleanliness is making us sick - Children develop allergies and eczema
2015-02-27 20:31
Could using a dishwashing machine increase the chances your child will develop allergies? That's what some provocative new research suggests — but don't tear out your machine just yet. The study involved 1,029 Swedish children (ages 7 or 8) and found that those whose parents said they mostly wash the family's dishes by hand were significantly less likely to develop eczema, ...
USDA: Can’t We Just Scan Food to See GMO Ingredients?
2015-02-27 20:26
Tom Vislack, secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Congress that labeling genetically modified foods (GMOs) could be unnecessary if customers “use their phones to scan special bar codes or other symbols on food packages in the grocery store” to determine the ingredients and identify GMOs. Vislack said: “Industry could solve that issue in a heartbeat.” This idea “could have ...
Vikings Were Pioneers of Craft and International Trade
2015-02-26 23:30
The connections between technology, urban trading, and international economics which have come to define modern living are nothing new. Back in the first millennium AD, the Vikings were expert at exploring these very issues. While the Vikings are gone their legacy is remembered, such as at the annual Jorvik Viking Festival in York. The Norsemen's military prowess and exploration are more ...
Just Based on DNA, Scientists Can Construct an Image of Your Face
2015-02-26 22:05
Putting pencil to paper has been the tried-and-true method to illustrate the faces of wanted criminals, but new technology is changing this traditional approach. DNA, rather than an artist’s skill, is an emerging tool to recreate the face behind a crime. The new forensic technique is called DNA phenotyping. It relies on DNA, found for instance in a drop of blood, ...
FCC Votes In Favor Of Obama's Net Neutrality - Has The Slippery Slope To Web Censorship Begun?
2015-02-26 20:14
"An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life," according to President Obama and it appears his perspective on the heavy hand of government regulation inserting itself into the last bastion of freedom and dynamism in the US economy, is how best to achieve "openness." Having pressured FCC's Tom Wheeler, the vote ...
More News »