Surfing the net boosts brain health

October 15th, 2008 - 12:27 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, October 15 (ANI): Web search activity may be helpful in stimulating and possibly improving brain function, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) observed middle-aged or older web-savvy people as they used search engines, and found that the activity triggered key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning.
Published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, this is the first study to demonstrate the impact of Internet searching on the performance of the brain.
“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults. Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA who holds UCLA’’s Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging.
The researcher said that structural and functional changes occurring in an aging brain could impair cognitive function, but it could be avoided by pursuing such activities as keep the mind engaged.
While crossword puzzles were traditionally used for the purpose, scientists were assessing the influence of computer and Internet use these days, according to the researcher.
For their study, the researchers worked with 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76.
Half of the study participants were experienced Internet users, while the other half were not. Age, educational level, and gender were similar between the two groups.
The participants performed Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during these activities.
All study participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, demonstrating use of the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities, which are located in the temporal, parietal, occipital and other areas of the brain.
Internet searches revealed a major difference between the two groups.
While all participants demonstrated the same brain activity that was seen during the book-reading task, the web-savvy group also registered activity in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning.
“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading but only in those with prior Internet experience,” said Small, who is also the director of UCLA’’s Memory and Aging Research Center.
The volunteers who had prior experience of web searching registered a twofold increased in brain activation as compared to those with little Internet experience.
According to the researchers, people have to make decisions about what to click on to pursue more information on the Internet, which engages important cognitive circuits in the brain.
“A simple, everyday task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older,” Small said.
Small added that the minimal brain activation found in the less experienced Internet group may be due to participants not quite grasping the strategies needed to successfully engage in an Internet search, which is common while learning a new activity.
“With more time on the Internet, they may demonstrate the same brain activation patterns as the more experienced group,” he said.
He said that further studies would address both the positive and negative influences of emerging technologies on the aging brain. (ANI)

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