Can Internet Search Improve Brain Function?

For all those people who claim hours searching the internet is a waste of time, you may have missed this argument. In studies of Internet searching, particularly a study published in October 2008, there is significant evidence to suggest that searching the Internet can actually improve brain function. There are important limits to this study, which should be considered before you start surfing the Internet or committing to more hours online.

First, the study published in October 2008, conducted by Dr. Gary Small of UCLA, looked at people between the ages of 55 and 76. Researchers know that it may be more difficult to improve brain function in this age group because the The brain begins to atrophy and may show a decline in function as we age. The study did not take into account whether Internet searching would improve brain function in groups of younger people.

What Dr. Gary Small and his team of researchers found, however, is interesting. The participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while reading or searching the Internet. Both activities showed an increase in brain activity, but Internet searching showed increased activity in several different areas of the brain. Internet searching tends to engage the brain more than reading.

There was some difference between people who were new to internet search. Those who had previously spent a lot of time online had much higher levels of brain activity, and those with less internet experience had almost two-thirds less activity than internet-savvy participants. It could be that increased experience with the web could help improve brain function more dramatically as people lose their novice status.

Since significant brain activity, especially one that involves more parts of the brain, can improve brain function over time, it's thought that you can really sharpen your cognitive skills if you search online. According to Dr. Small's study, this would be more useful than reading. However, if you hate the Internet, there are ways to get some of the same benefits from being offline.

Working certain types of puzzles, especially math puzzles like Sudoku or crossword puzzles and anagrams, can provide the same kind of benefits. The downside to these types of puzzles is that they rely on the information you have. You may be able to expand knowledge and improve brain function, if you are also learning new things from traveling on the net. Clearly, more research is needed in this area to fully test Small's theory, but the initial data is encouraging and suggests there may be great benefit to middle-aged and older people who want to stay alert while surfing the net.

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