rewired

Posted on October 30, 2009
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From the Times

“Advances in technology have revealed that our brains are far more altered by experience or training than was thought possible. The memory-storing hippocampus region of the brain in London taxi drivers is bigger, and the auditory areas of musicians more developed, than average. Even learning to juggle can result in a certain amount of rewiring of the brain.

So the Lord Chief Justice’s suggestion that a lifetime spent on the internet will alter the way we think and process information is well founded. But whether these changes will enhance or degrade our powers of imagination, recall and decision-making has divided scientists.

Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, was among the first to warn that today’s children may grow up with short attention spans and no imagination. Others suggest that the abandonment of books means people will lose the ability to follow a plot from start to finish. However, as yet little or no evidence has emerged to support these fears.

Short-term studies have, if anything, shown internet use to have a positive impact on our mental powers.

A study published this week, for instance, revealed that when “internet naive” adults carried out web searches every day for two weeks, it boosted the activity in brain areas linked to decision-making and working memory.

The reality is likely to be a trade-off: certain abilities will be enhanced at the expense of others. It could be that browsing through the vast quantities of information on the web leaves people better equipped to filter out the irrelevant and focus on the important.

Meanwhile, people may get worse at keeping the bigger picture in mind. Only a long-term psychological study will provide a definitive picture of how internet use affects cognition.

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