post

Your Brain on Google

Googling for information on the internet can improve brain health!

In a recent study, patterns of brain activation were recorded in individuals performing various computer-related tasks. In net savvy individuals, internet searching was associated with increased blood flow in regions of the brain controlling decision making, complex reasoning, and in the visual cortex.

brain google internet searchCompare the intensity of brain activation in the net naive group in blue (top) and the net savvy group in red (below), while performing internet related searches.

Other activities such as computer-game playing also cause brain activation. But as familiarity with the games increases, the novelty decreases with a concomitant decrease in brain activity. Internet search however, remains novel and mentally stimulating.

While not proven, the generally held view is that “engaging in mentally stimulating activities will maintain cognitive abilities and prevent age-related cognitive decline.”


Update:
In the comments, Kahliyalogue asked what we did do before the internet came along? And what about reading?

Simply reading did activate many of the same regions of the brain as involved in cognitive development; BUT at a lower level. Rather than simply reading, the novelty aspect is more important. Something to keep the brain engaged and constantly imagining. Perhaps reading a thriller, where you are eagerly awaiting the outcome; or a romance novel with its own build up of excitement are more important.

Many social aspects can be equally, or even more stimulating than just googling. Going to a farmer’s market and bargaining, playing with grandkids, meeting and reliving good times with friends, visiting relatives, or chatting with random folks can enhance cognitive development.

All these activities additionally help us, and particularly the elderly, develop a social network that can be useful in real-life emergencies: A relative could help pick you up if you fell down; a friend could take you to the doctor!

This later point brings up another query by Cheeni: What is the opportunity cost? As in, what is it we are NOT doing because we are busy with the internet and googling?

Again, Kahliyalogue provides the answer:
“I am truly grateful to the possibilities the internet has provided in seeking information and connecting with people all over the globe, which is magnificent. But … it is taking it’s toll on our personal lives and on the society as a whole. It can never replace the emotional fulfillment of authentic “live” interconnections between human beings involving all of our senses, essential for us to grow in more ways than one.”

Beautifully said!



Original Research Article:
Small and others, “Your brain on google: Patterns of cerebral activation during internet searching” Am J Geriatric Psychiatry (2009); (PDF).

Comments

  1. STUMBLEUPON > GOOGLE

    ANY DAY

    They should do a study on Stumble. I swear if I keep this up I’m gonna know everything there is to know in the universe in like a year or two. haha

  2. gawd im always googling, good for me!

  3. Reposting from twitter:

    interesting post-to what extent is this replacing other activity-like social conversations, i.e. what is the opportunity cost?

    • Thank you Cheeni for posting!
      A very important question.

      The study essentially compared plain reading on the internet v/s googling. Certainly googling required “more brain effort” and thus they saw the enhance blood flow and activation.

      But as you rightly pointed out, (and other commenters alluded to above) there are many other non-computer related activities that can achieve – and have achieved for millennia – the same enhancement of cognitive development.

      Social interactions (going to the local market, checking on and hanging out with friends, going to a gym; library, visiting relatives, etc) is important, as it will additionally help to develop a social network that can be useful in other circumstances too; What if you get into an accident; or fell down and need friends to help you up, or take you to the doctor?

      Novelty of activity is important – so traveling to new places would do the same and include other social benefits.

      Too much googling and generally too much computer use can make you a social recluse. your social relations which are more important iin a community setting may be sacrificed. A huge opportunity cost.

      Good point! Thanks

  4. Yay my brain stands a shot after all! 🙂

    Hooray for Googling!

    • Was initially surprised at the finding, but the novelty aspect makes total sense;

      How do we replicate this in a non-internet world?

      • kahliyalogue says:

        Is it not what we were doing before internet came along..? Read books…?

        • Interestingly, the study found that plain reading did activate many of the same regions of the brain as involved in cognitive development; BUT at a lower level.

          I think the novelty aspect is more important. Perhaps a thriller, where you are eagerly awaiting the outcome; or a romance, …

          Perhaps, other social aspects like going to a farmer’s market and bargaining, chatting with random folks will also be more stimulating!

          • kahliyalogue says:

            Does the novelty factor not exist in reading a good educational book?Or better yet a True Spiritual one? I would believe it to be so reviving to the point of not only stimulating but maybe even creating new cellls..?
            My mind seems to wander back to your amazing post on the bookseller in Goa,especially the striking photo which needs no words..Isnt that a large part of why we were so moved by that image?

            I am truly grateful to the possibilities the internet has provided in seeking information and connecting with people all over the globe,which is magnificent.But I agree it is taking it`s toll on our personal lives and on the society as a whole.It can never replace the emotional fulfillment of authentic “live” interconnections between human beings involving all of our senses,essential for us to grow in more ways than one..
            I guess balance is the solution..? 🙂

            • Hi Kahliyalogue,
              I never replied to your insightful comment – but I have not forgotten about it.

              I had felt the post needed to incorporate some of the thoughts tossed around in the comments. So I updated the post and include some of your comments in it.

              Thank you again for the beautiful discussion.

              BTW, anytime you want to write a guest post for me, you are more than welcome! 🙂

              Arun

  5. kahliyalogue says:

    Well thats a relief..! And here we are thinking that we are being lazy..!That`ll tell everybody.. 🙂

    • Yes! We may be stimulating our brains, but we are still physically inactive, leading to the obesity epidemic.

      Perhaps we should all sit on the Medicine Ball to google; or stand on one of those Wii Fit boards to keep us active!

      My next prediction – a Wii Seat for our chair :-O

  6. Ha..ha..ha…nice idea to reply to boss when he/she catches us googling. 🙂 And Arun, I should not tell my hubby abt this article as he does play game on laptop once he comes home in evening. He says these game refreshes my mood after having a busy day at work while I usually stuck in kitchen preparing dinner. 😦

    But, I definitely googling more than him…he..he
    Nice info.
    Sonu:)

    • Ha hA! When I get home too, I check my email and else, while M is usually screaming for me to come to dinner. 🙂
      Games do refresh and kinda wipe away the days stresses.

      Yaay for the googling; and best not to have the boss find you googling.
      Best, Best!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s