Monday, November 17, 2008

Digital Reading and the Human Brain

There are times when I think that technology and living in the 21st century is just too cool for words.  Last week, I had once of those times. 

UCLA just completed a study about Internet usage and the human brain.  Specifically it was a study designed to see "if regular Internet usage was more effective than other intellectually stimulating tasks in keep the brain limber in aging test subjects."

Because they are a medical educational FMRIinstitution they have access  to the most amazing technology around --  fMRI (Functional Magnetic Imaging Resonance).  I won't pretend to understand why this is so cool.  All I know is that it gives researchers and amazing window into the human brain.  The fMRI actually lets us see activity in the human brain.   Very pretty pictures!

In terms I understand, this study tracked brain activity while adults did various online tasks including reading and "googling."  They wanted to find out if regular internet usage effectively keeps an aging brain more limber, more able to flex and and bend freely.

Evidently digital reading does keep the brain limber for those who do it often.  Interestingly, internet neophytes (people without previous Internet experience) showed little change on brain activity when reading vs when using the internet.

But real changes were seen in those who habitually use the Internet. Those subjects were evidently exercising their brains in a big way.  They showed a significant increase in activity in the frontal, temporal and cingulated areas of the brain.  These are the areas associated with complex reasoning.

The digital readers weren't just passively taking in information, they were actively engaged.  Online activity evidently engages multiple parts of the brain.

This is significant for the aging, but it has real, everyday value growing children and adults.  Consider this study as a piece of evidence that using the internet keeps us learning new things which in turn help us build new skill sets.This intellectual exercise keeps our brains flexible and able to adapt to our increasingly complex world. 

limberI have watched my world get larger and more complex with every passing year.  The flood of information can be almost overwhelming.  I used to read one or two newspapers each day and a half dozen trade journals in a month.  Now I read three or four newspapers a day, have several RSS feeds bringing me hourly news and information and read hundreds of blog pieces a week plus I have access to literally hundreds of journals.  Sometimes I wonder if my brain is up to the challenge.  AND I wonder what all this means for my children and their children.  It is conceivable that we will all just implode from too much info.

Evidently this is a rather foolish notion on my part.  Seems that the human brain is infinitely adaptable and the more we use it the more it expands.  I don't know about you, but I find this an enormously reassuring world view.  

No comments:


Subscribe Now: Feed Icon