3 Ways the Internet Is Changing Your Brain
By Kate Gardner
I love the internet. I love being able to see if a store is still open, get movie times, and download recipes in the blink of an eye. About half of my life was pre-internet -- a time when you had to pick up a telephone (which was connected to your wall) and call places to find out if they were still open. I can say without a doubt that the internet makes life a heck of a lot easier. According to TechnologyReview.com, we spend 23.6 hours per week on the internet, up from only 9.4 hours in 2000. At some point, you've got to ask: Is all this time on the internet good for our brains?
An international team of researchers wanted to see if internet use has any impact on our brain structure and function. In their World Psychiatry article, "The 'online brain': how the Internet may be changing our cognition," these researchers examined a number of studies to see how internet use affects our attention, memory, and social cognition.
When you go online, do you do one thing or do you switch back and forth from various websites, apps, shows, and games? There is so much to do on the internet and our technology has reached a point where we can do a lot of it at the same time. When we switch our attention back and forth as rapidly as we do online, we may be damaging our ability to keep our focus on one task for very long.
When we get information, our brain goes through a series of steps to find it, make note of it, and store it. And the internet allows us to access an amazing amount of information! But studies show that when we look things up on the internet we tend to remember where we found information, rather than the information itself. However, it may help your brain when you use your phone or other devices to make notes about things you want to remember.
The term social cognition refers to the way our brain goes about being social. Research shows that our brain reacts the same to online social interactions as it does to real-life social interactions. As the authors note, when you're rejected online your brain reacts just the same as if you were rejected in real life. The problem is there are far more opportunities for us to be rejected online than there are in real life. As we are seeing more and more, this is having a huge impact on our mental health.
The internet has become a big part of how we live our lives. I can't imagine we'd all give it up simply because it's causing our brains to change. Still, it's good to know what these changes are so we can make better decisions for ourselves and our families.
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