During the winter of 2007, a UCLA professor of psychiatry named Gary Small recruited six volunteers—three experienced Web surfers and three novices—for a study on brain activity.
[…]
The two groups showed marked differences. Brain activity of the experienced surfers was far more extensive than that of the newbies, particularly in areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with problem-solving and decisionmaking. Small then had his subjects read normal blocks of text projected onto their goggles; in this case, scans revealed no significant difference in areas of brain activation between the two groups. The evidence suggested, then, that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Internet use.

The most remarkable result of the experiment emerged when Small repeated the tests six days later. In the interim, the novices had agreed to spend an hour a day online, searching the Internet. The new scans revealed that their brain activity had changed dramatically; it now resembled that of the veteran surfers. “Five hours on the Internet and the naive subjects had already rewired their brains.”
[…]
But as Small was careful to point out, more brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity.




  1. envirotex says:

    Rewired the brain is a stretch. Messed up my experiment is more like it. tl;dr;

  2. Luc says:

    Meh. I think they should test other activities, such as chess, carpentry or simply reading a newspaper for one hour every day. I suspect the results will be the same.

  3. GregAllen says:

    This story has the sniff of junk science… his initial sample group was just THREE people in each category! Even his follow-up of 18 is not enough.

    But, I have no problem believing the premise — that using the Internet shapes the brain. Surely it does — because all activity shapes the brain.

    The reason it needs a larger study group is because the Internet is so diverse. Shopping on ebay is a very different experience than reading the news or sharing insults on Twitter (or wasting time on Dvorak Uncensored.)

    Also, “non web surfer” is too vague — are they burger flippers or college professors? 18 or 80? Men or women?

    It seems like a good study, though: I’d like to see this study redone with a much larger sample group, tracking what they were actually doing on the Internet.

  4. GregAllen says:

    >> Luc said, on June 28th, 2010 at 6:56 am
    >> Meh. I think they should test other activities, such as chess, carpentry or simply reading a newspaper for one hour every day

    I’m not sure this is true — I’ve been studying this issue for my recent university classes.

    The research indicates that the type of media seems to make a big difference in cognitive abilities.

    Watching TV is very different than sustained novel reading, for example. Chess is going to shape the brain differently than chopping wood.

    Hyperlinked reading seems to help us “survey and sift” information. As any college student knows, this can be VERY HELPFUL in research.

    But “surveying and sifting” is a useful means-to-and-end but not a good way to comprehend and synthesize.

    But for many readers, “surveying and sifting” is all they do. They never get to the actual learning.

    _MY_ point is that “the Internet” is not one medium. YouTube, SecondLife, HuffingtonPost, GMail, eBay, etc are significantly different experiences.

  5. Animby says:

    If I could just get someone to rewire my La-Z-Boy…

  6. bobbo, the thinking meat machine says:

    I wonder if the brains of atheists and bible thumpers light up/go dark differently when contemplating a logical inconsistency-in general and then on some dogma.

    A “belief” center of sorts? Connected to a locus of genetic material? Subject to cure?

    Heh, heh.

    Welcome to the doorstep of the Brave New World. Religious or not at our choosing.

  7. Luc says:

    @4
    You say that “the type of media seems to make a big difference in cognitive abilities.”

    That statement makes sense to me, as different, specific skills are exercised therefore improved, but the article doesn’t go into that, into HOW brain activity is changed. It just says it increases.

    particularly in areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with problem-solving and decisionmaking.

    To me, that sounds like they are just using a lot of difficult words to say that the subjects are putting on their thinking caps during the experiment, i.e. they are using their brains more.

    I am no scientist, but I wouldn’t expect anything different. I think the result is obvious.

  8. Buzz says:

    Garret Lisi, the frontrunner in producing a Theory Of Everything, is a surfer dude. I, however, am a net surfer dude and have no T.O.E.

    That should tell me something.


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