JUN 06, 2019 7:31 AM PDT

Are Online Technologies Affecting Our Brains?

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

A recent international study examined how one of the most phenomenal technological advances--the Internet—is targeting specific areas of cognition that may leads to changes in brain structure and eventually affect attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions. These changes can be both acute and sustained alterations.

"It's clear the Internet has drastically altered the opportunity for social interactions, and the contexts within which social relationships can take place. So, it's now critical to understand the potential for the online world to actually alter our social functioning, and determine which aspects of our social behavior will change, and which won't.” says Dr. Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute.

The study, published in World Psychiatry, investigated hypotheses concerning the relation between internet usage and cognitive processes and development with findings supported from psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging research.

"The key findings of this report are that high-levels of Internet use could indeed impact on many functions of the brain. For example, the limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the Internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention -- which then in turn may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task," said Dr. Firth. "Additionally, the online world now presents us with a uniquely large and constantly-accessible resource for facts and information, which is never more than a few taps and swipes away. Given we now have most of the world's factual information literally at our fingertips, this appears to have the potential to begin changing the ways in which we store, and even value, facts and knowledge in society, and in the brain."

The spread and adoption of online technologies, with the addition of social media, is concerning to some teachers and parents.

"To help with this, there are also now a multitude of apps and software programs available for restricting Internet usage and access on smartphones and computers -- which parents and carers can use to place some 'family-friendly' rules around both the time spent on personal devices, and also the types of content engaged with," says Dr. Firth. "Alongside this, speaking to children often about how their online lives affect them is also important -- to hopefully identify children at risk of cyberbullying, addictive behaviours, or even exploitation -- and so enabling timely intervention to avoid adverse outcomes."

"The bombardment of stimuli via the Internet, and the resultant divided attention commonly experienced, presents a range of concerns," said Professor Jerome Sarris, Deputy Director and Director of Research at NICM Health Research Institute. "I believe that this, along with the increasing #Instagramification of society, has the ability to alter both the structure and functioning of the brain, while potentially also altering our social fabric.”

Source: NICM Health Research Institute

 

About the Author
  • Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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