Scientific Breakthroughs

How the Internet Changes and Overtaxes the Brain

How the Internet Changes and Overtaxes the Brain
PHOTOGRAPH: Crew | Photo shows a person preoccupied with the Internet.

Is the internet negatively affecting the adolescent brain? Internet activities may bring advantages in terms of instantaneous access to information and connection with people, but the main contention of some parents and educators is that they create a huge distraction and affect brain development.

Internet use may be any of a wide variety of activities that include information gathering, communicating and obtaining entertainment through the World Wide Web. Other activities like video games and screen time (which may disrupt sleep and affect concentration if done excessively) can take place offline.

Said Dr. Iroise Dumontheil of Birkbeck, University of London “social media is affecting our brain, particularly its
plasticity, which is the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.” Dr. Dumontheil has focused on research pertaining to the typical development of social cognition and ‎cognitive control during adolescence and the way they function in adulthood.

Change in the Brain

Dr. Dumontheil cited that too much time spent on social media tends to cause the brain to change and grow. This is supported by a previous study that sought to determine if there are gray matter abnormalities in an adolescent with Internet addiction. The study, published in July 2011 in the European Journal of Radiology, uncovered that there were brain structural changes that did occur.

Outside the academe, some people opine that evidence that the Internet has rewired the brains of the current generation is lacking. Many other people cite that it is, in fact, the very act of zipping from one digital device to another or browsing several social networking sites at the same time, that is ruining concentration and affecting the brain.

Books on How the Internet Affects the Brain

Differing perspectives on how young people use the Internet have seen print. Danah Boyd, 39, principal researcher at Microsoft Research and author of the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, delved on the immense benefits of social media sites. The gadgets, she noted, are just a means to a social end.

In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, senior American writer, who has published books and articles on technology, culture, and business, mentioned a study that analyzed how “digital immersion” has affected the way young people (who grew up with the web) absorb information. People’s brains change in response to experiences, and the really big question that the author presented to readers is whether people tend to sacrifice the ability to read and think deeply in being too immersed with modern technologies like the Internet.

Taking Time to Unplug

Michael Y. Simon, a psychotherapist based in Oakland, California, offers a suggestion. Citing that day-to-day Internet activities are more deeply rooted than some people may think, it may be best not to take internet surfing, browsing and uploading to the extreme.

Simon said the solution may not necessarily be to “opt out” of the digital world, but to take some time to unplug for a while and experience the real world. In doing so, we avoid overtaxing the brain.


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