That's Right Grandpa, the Internet Can Make You Smarter

grandpa

image via berkely.edu

If you’re of a certain age and are concerned that your cerebral wiring might be getting a tad rusty, I’ve got just thing for you:  it’s called the Internet, and it’ll buzz up your noggin like nobody’s business. 

Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the author of iBrain, discussed his findings about the Internet’s neuro-rejuvinating potential at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this week. 

Small and his team tested 24 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Half the participants had already been using the Internet daily, while the other half had very little or no experience with the net. Health status, age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.

Participants searched the Web while hooked up to an fMRI machine, which tracks brain activity by measuring the level of cerebral blood flow during cognitive tasks.  After the initial brain scan, participants went home and conducted Internet searches across a range of topics for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. Participants then returned to the lab and received a second brain scan using the same Internet simulation task but with different topics.

The first scan of participants with little Internet experience showed brain activity in regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities. The second brain scan of these participants, conducted after they’d practiced Internet searching at home, showed activation of these same regions, as well as triggering of the middle frontal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus – areas of the brain known to be important in working memory and decision-making.

The upshot: From Internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users after just a brief period of time.  

The reason for this, Small and his team believe, is that when we’re performing an Internet search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to extract the important points from competing graphics and words is essential.  This activity stimulates key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning– counteracting  atrophy, reductions in cell activity and increases in deposits of amyloid plaques, all of which can reduce cognitive function.

Previous research by Small’s UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. According to Small, the new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience.

via UCLA newsroom

Link to an interview with Dr. Gary Small

 
 
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