Surfing the Web is Good for Your Brain

Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have revealed that older adults are able to increase the efficiency of their brain by performing searches on the Internet. The survey performed shows that computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults were able to trigger key centres in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The results may deduce that web search activity could assist in stimulating and possibly improve brain function.




Dr. Gary W. Small (Credit: UCLA) 
Dr. Gary W. Small
(Credit: UCLA)

Traditionally, adults are encouraged to pursue activities such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku, however the influence of the computer, especially the internet, might be able to keep the mind engaged and aid in preserving brain health and cognitive ability. As we age, the structure and the function of the brain are usually affected by atrophy, reductions in cell activity, and increases in deposits of amyloidal plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.”

The study utilised 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76, where half were never exposed to the internet and the rest were familiar with search methods on the internet. To standardise the study, the participants of the two groups were of similar age, educational level, and gender.

Data was recorded from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans which were obtained while the volunteers were asked to perform internet searchers and book-reading tasks. The scans were able to record subtle brain-circuitry changes and track the strength of cell responses in the brain by assessing the concentration of cerebral blood flow during cognitive tasks.  

 Functional MRI brain scans show how searching the Internet dramatically engages brain neural networks (in red). The image on the left displays brain activity while reading a book; the image on the right displays activity while engaging in an Internet search (Credit: UCLA)
Functional MRI brain scans show
how searching the Internet dramatically
engages brain neural networks
(in red). The image on the left displays
brain activity while reading a book;
the image on the right displays activity
while engaging in an Internet
search (Credit: UCLA)

During the book reading task all the volunteers, from both sides demonstrated high levels of brain activity in the regions of the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes, which control language, reading, memory, and visual abilities. However, internet searches showed a major variation between the two groups. The web-savvy group also activated the frontal, temporal, and cingulated areas of the brain. These areas control decision-making and complex reasoning.

The fMRI measures by a unit called a voxel. Researchers found that the group with previous experience in web searchers had sparked 21,782 voxels, in comparison with 8,646 voxels for the opposite faction. This indicates an approximately twofold increase in brain activity for the web-familiar group, which might be due to the fact that surfing the web poses choices to be made with search-engine selections. Compared with just simply reading a book, surfing the web engages important cognitive circuits in the brain.

Dr. Small also said that “With more time on the internet they may demonstrate the same brain activation patterns as the more experienced group.” Researchers noted that additional studies will address both the positive and negative influences of these emerging technologies on the aging brain.

TFOT has previously written about a new treatment thathalts progress of alzheimer’s called Rember  that may slow the progress of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease by 81% over a year and the n ew “chatter box,” a powerful super computer that mimics the part of the brain that controls speech and language functions to better understand what goes wrong after brain damage caused by trauma or stroke. You can also check out our article about erasing memories made easy where disrupting the brain’s ability to change, causes loss of the ability to recognize familiar objects. This research may help improve our understanding of the nature of conditions that harm our memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

Additional information on the team’s findings can be obtained at UCLA’s website.