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