Your Brain on Technology

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

The other day, I pulled up to a stoplight with the car window down. I looked over and a man was talking to himself in his car. I usually get a kick out of a person who sings in the car but, was this guy particularly lonely? Or, was his passenger just bent over in the seat next to him? None of the above. He was actually on the phone with a contraption sticking out of his ear. Bluetooth, blackberry, iphone, ipod, one of those, idunno! It amazes me to see how far technology has come and how much we truly rely on these gizmos in our daily lives.

It is incredible to think my grandmother witnessed technology advance through the invention of the car, telephone, television, typewriter, record player, cds, dvds, and then computers! If my grandmother wanted to communicate with someone, she had to meet with them face-to-face. She couldn’t blast them an email or send a quick text.

Sometimes I wonder what I would ever do without my Blackberry attached to me 24/7. That little device that fits so perfectly in my pocket is my lifeline to the outside world and, with it I know I am never alone…. Or am I? In a way, technology separates us from society and from the general public. With its dependence, we lose a very important quality of communication and socialization. Which is ironic, because these days, everyone seems to strive for perpetual connectivity through email, texting, chat rooms, social online networking, IMing, etc.

These technologies no longer appeal only to the younger, cyber generation. Even reluctant Baby Boomers have converted to a wireless, digital lifestyle. In fact, you’re probably reading this article online! Cutting edge, neurological studies are actually examining how technology is altering our lifestyles, how we feel, behave, react and how our brains handle information. Technology augments the evolution of our brains at a rapid rate. All of my brain circuits evolve and communicate with themselves faster and more efficiently than my grandmother’s.

Take surfing the web for example. In a recent UCLA study, researchers wanted to find out how constant brain stimulation, through using the computer, impacts how the brain’s pathways send signals to each other. To accomplish this, researchers examined two groups of volunteers in their mid-fifties through seventies. One group was comprised of computer-newbies and the other computer-savvy. Both groups performed web searches and both groups participated in some simple book-reading tasks while they underwent brain scans (functional MRI scanning). The computer-savvy group showed definitive brain activity in a specific area of the brain that controls decision-making and processes complex information along with integrating sensations, thoughts, and short-term memory. Alternatively, the computer-newbies showed little to no activity in this region.

After the initial brain scans, the study went on to familiarize the computer-newbies with the Internet and web searches by allowing them to surf the web. Researchers conducted follow-up brain scans after the five days and sure enough, the area of the brain where they once lacked stimulation and activity, lit up!

The head of the study, Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center stated in a recent press release, “The study results are encouraging that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults”. By simply surfing the web, you may be helping your brain stimulate certain useful cognitive circuits! So why don’t we do it all time (besides the obvious social implications)? What happens to the brain with extended periods of exposure to the Internet or technology in general?

A new book actually examines these very questions. Dr. Small is also the author of, “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind”. He explains how a relationship exists between technological advancements and intelligence. Average IQ scores are steadily rising as technology hones our cognitive ability and multi-tasking skills. The brain is evolving and finding shortcuts in its circuitry to handle and process larger amounts of information and experience more rapid decision making.

Without a doubt, the positive technological advancements that help the brain evolve in a constructive way are ones that are not passive. You can’t really be comatose and use the computer, like you can when you watch television. Some neurological studies have demonstrated television places the mind in an altered state of consciousness where the analytical part of the brain (the left side) switches off entirely. Maybe that is why television ads work so well?

Many studies have proven that feeding your brain with daily, positive mental stimulation may improve memory and brain health in middle-aged and older people. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku can actually strengthen your brain and cognitive abilities by working neurons that help improve memory and can even ward off Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases.

While all of this seems positive, I can’t help wonder if we are evolving away from efficiently handling our people skills? What are the implications for our brains and humanity? Somewhere, there must be a balance.

Perhaps, like everything else, technology should be taken in moderation. I never forget about my low-tech alternatives. Somehow, I still think playing a game of chess with a friend is exceedingly better than sitting alone on my couch playing Tetris on my Blackberry. Don’t discount the Bluetooth user though. That man driving along who appears to be talking to himself, errr… through his Bluetooth, may actually be aerobicizing his brain while driving – improving his intelligence by stimulating his synapses while showing off his ability to multi-task. A notable feat!

References

Berry , Lynn. "Television May Be Doing Your Thinking." Natural News. 18/10/2008. 23 Oct 2008

Parker-Pope, Tara. "Surfing the Internet Boosts Aging Brains." The New York Times Well 16/10/2008 2. 23 Oct 2008

Small, Gary. iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. First. New York: Harper Collins, 2008, 240pp.

Share this article
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someonePrint this page