There is no question that the internet has greatly boosted any person’s ability to find an authentic Italian restaurant, figure out where to get moccasins for a Pocahontas costume, meet the person of their dreams specifically with red hair and green eyes or just about anything else you can imagine. Ever stop to think about what this is doing to our brains?
When culture changes the way we engage our brains, our brains change. because our brains are neuroplastic. Neuroplasticity is a truth of the last decade meaning our brains physically change form and function based on our experiences, behaviors, and even thoughts.
While the theories about our brains’ response to our society’s growing dependence on technology are varied and many studies are currently being conducted, the jury is still out on the effects of modern technology on our brains. Like almost everything, there are proving to be positive and negative consequences to becoming a culture of online addicts.
On the upside, having a wealth of information at our fingertips improves the brain’s speed and accuracy. Studies show that the brains of experienced web surfers have higher activity in the prefrontal cortex associated with problem solving and decision making. After just 5 hours online, people showed increased brain activity.
However, even as the internet gives us easy access to huge amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers who are easily distracted with weaker concentration and much less control over our working memories. Research has confirmed that people who read something the old fashioned way, linearly, remember more and learn more.
Our intelligence is largely dependent on our ability to transfer information from working memory, the scratch pad of the mind, to long term memory, the filing system. When we have information in front of us along with numerous links and advertisements, all screaming at us at one time, it leads to cognitive overload.
Short term memory is very fragile, and a break in attention can wipe the slate clean. I bet you have experienced this. Have you ever been reading something and an interesting link catches your eye? You click on the link to explore, going to a different page and when you go back to the original piece, you have no idea what it’s saying anymore.
Online our ability to focus is being attacked. Every time something changes or moves in our environment, a primitive, physical impulse to respond to immediate opportunities or threats called the orienting response is triggered which results in a dopamine squirt in your brain. Dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter which aids in making habits addictive and in making permanent neuroplastic changes in the brain. That’s why you see all the flashing and moving internet ads.
Every medium develops some cognitive skills. Surfing the web strengthens brain functions involved in fast paced problem solving and and finding information. Playing Super Mario improves hand-eye coordination, reflex response time, and visual cue processing. But, our growing use of the internet and other screen-based technologies is weakening our capacity for deep processing necessary for analysis, complex thinking, imagination, and reflection.
A gain in some areas of the brain is most always at the expense of others.
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