Much has been said about the addictive nature of the Internet but not all the effects of the net are negative and this is shown by a research carried out at UCLA.
A training in the use of the Internet can stimulate neural activation patterns and potentially improve brain functions in older adults.
As the brain ages appear changes in its structures and functions, neural activity decreases dramatically and this impacts the quality of cognitive functions.
However, the use of the Internet can produce a stimulation that improves the efficiency of cognitive processing and alters the way in which the brain encodes information.
This also applies to seniors even if they have minimal internet browsing and searching experience and even if they have only used it for a short period of time.
The UCLA team worked with 24 volunteers ranging in age from 55 to 78 and with normal neurological function. Prior to the study, half of the participants had used the Internet on a daily basis, while the other half had very limited experience. Of course, gender and educational level were similar in both groups of the sample.
Participants conducted web searches while their brains were scanned using fMRI.
Following the brain scan, the elderly returned home and were instructed to conduct daily searches of at least one hour for a period of one to two weeks. The search practices involved answering questions on the Internet on various topics that forced them to carry out explorations in different sites.
The participants were subsequently subjected to a second scan while using the Internet. The results were amazing:
The first scan, when people had little experience with the Internet, showed brain activity in areas related to language control, reading, memory, and visual skills; activating the zones: frontal, temporal, parietal and cingula.
The second scan showed the activation of the same areas and were added also the areas related to working memory and decision-making: the frontal median gyrus and the frontal inferior gyrus.
Thus, the results suggest that searching for information online can act as an exercise for the brain since it demands skills that older adults do not normally exercise: keeping a considerable amount of information in working memory, extracting the essential points from the readings and above all, deciding which is the most relevant information among the accumulation of pages reviewed.
Of course, exercising these skills is also crucial for the young brain, so from now on we will surely conduct our Internet searches from a different perspective.
University of California – Los Angeles (2009, October). First-time Internet Users Find Boost In Brain Function After Just One Week. ScienceDaily