The Internet is Changing Your Brain
Are you aware of how much time you spend on the internet and what you do? Your usage could be affecting your attention, memory processes, social interactions and other possible cognitive function.
According to a review compiled by an international team of researchers from Western Sydney University, Harvard University, Kings College, Oxford University and University of Manchester, the internet can produce acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain.
“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,” says Joseph Firth, Ph.D., lead author of the report.
“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,” Firth says. “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.”
To compile the report, the team of researchers explored leading hypotheses on how the internet may alter cognitive processes and further investigated the extent to which these hypotheses were supported by recent psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging research findings. Based on this information, they then created revised models on how the internet could affect the brain’s structure, function and cognitive development.
Their findings highlight the need for further exploration into internet use and the effects on mental and brain health.
Senior author Jerome Sarris acknowledges the potential impacts of internet use on the brain.
“The bombardment of stimuli via the Internet, and the resultant divided attention commonly experienced, presents a range of concerns,” says Sarris. “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.”
To minimize the effects of the internet on your brain, Sarris suggests mindfulness and focus practice. “Internet hygiene” techniques could also be helpful. These include reducing online multitasking, ritualistic “checking” behaviors and evening online activity. Instead of spending time on the web, try engaging in more face-to-face interactions.
The review was published in World Psychiatry.