This article is a summary of the article published in the BBC Science and Technology focus magazine, November 2016, titled Is technology changing our brains? We have chosen to summaries this because it clearly and succinctly summaries the current research in this area. Please read on and be intrigued.
The reality is that our brains do change when we use the smartphone, computer, screwdriver or any other tool for that matter. So the real question is ‘how are our brains adapting to living in today’s screen-first, always online, networked world?’ We are a long way from definitive answers but research has been conducted to start to understand how our brains are being affected in certain key areas:
Attention: many believe that the incessant bombardment, and the need for instant answers, has eroded our ability to focus.
Mood: Heavy use of the internet particularly social media has been linked to depression. Social media can be linked to people feeling inadequate due to a high consumption of idealised images.
Memory: We use our devices to tap into information as diverse as facts, routes, and phone numbers. We are therefore becoming less reliant on our memory. It has been said that those addicted to the internet or gaming have shown shrinkage in the brain’s grey matter. More research needs to be carried out on ‘real’ as oppose to ‘addicted’ internet users.
Sleep: Technology keeps us up for 2 reasons: First, by the stimulating content. Secondly, the blue light emitted by the LED screens prevents the brain from producing the sleep hormone melatonin.
Reading: More research is needed in this area but it is said that when reading on a screen we tend to skim read, scan and click on hyperlinks, rather than ‘deep reading’. Therefore we don’t take as much from the text.
Multitasking: Our ‘always on’ culture has made us more skilful at multitasking. However, when we multitask the knowledge acquired is less deeply embedded in our memories.
Navigation: GPS users have less grey matter in the hippocampus then those who navigate without GPS.
So although more research needs to be carried out in this field, there is growing evidence that our brains our adapting to living in an online world.