Can Technology Help Brain Development?

In class this week we had a discussion about the differences in how each generation uses and understands technology. I made a point about younger people being raised around technology and the effect that could have had on brain development or why we understand technology more. I thought this was an interesting idea and I wanted to know more, so I decided to do some research. I found many articles on the negative impacts that technology has on developing children. Most of these articles look fairly similar to this article from Huffington Post. The author explains, “diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate.”

While I understand that technology overuse can have troubling consequences on developing minds and bodies, I felt there had to be an article somewhere that pointed to the benefits of technology. Then I came across this article about research being conducted at UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The article refers to a “brain gap” between young “digital natives” and older “digital immigrants”. Dr. Gary Small, director of the Memory and Aging Research Center, explains that “’digital natives’ — young people born into a world of laptops and cell phones, text messaging and twittering — spend an average of 8 1/2 hours each day exposed to digital technology. This exposure is rewiring their brain’s neural circuitry, heightening skills like multi-tasking, complex reasoning and decision-making.” As a consequence, however, the overuse of technology takes away from time that could be spent developing people skills. Digital immigrants, on the other hand, were born into a world without the Internet and must work harder to navigate technology “without the already-developed brain form and function”. Luckily, the brain is an amazing phenomena that is still trainable at any age. Dr. Small pointed to a recent study that examined the effects of Internet searching on brain activity in subjects between the ages of 55 and 76, with only half of them being experienced in Internet searching. Using MRI technology to scan the subjects’ brains while googling, “researchers found that the brains of the Web-savvy group reflected about twice as much activity compared to the brains of those who were not Web-savvy”. Dr. Small believes that technology could be extremely useful in helping aging brains stay sharp and maintain vital functions. As technology continues to weave into all facets of daily life, research like this could be extremely useful in helping us to understand and harness the benefits of technology.


3 responses to “Can Technology Help Brain Development?

  • dthunell

    Growing up, my parents limited the amount of time my brothers and I spent watching tv or surfing the internet/playing computer games, and refused to allow us to have a video game system until maybe 2005 or so. My oldest brother didn’t have a cell phone until his junior year of college, which he bought himself, and I did not have a cell phone until sophomore year of high school. They wanted us to be outdoors, playing sports, socializing with friends and neighborhood kids. My parents are from a much different generation, growing up working class in the 1950s and 60s. I am really thankful for the way they raised me and I think the limited use of technology I had in my childhood helped with our development as a childhood.

    But having said that, I think the rapid improvement of technology has been superb and it can really be used for brain development and even developing social skills when used in some moderation. I play online chess and Sporcle every day and my parents have started to play Lumosity games as well as solitaire and sudoku on their iPads. I think I can speak for them when I say this technology has helped keep our brains sharp and active as well as maintaing the vital functions you talk about. And I’m sure this information technology will only continue to grow and improve in helping maintain healthy cerebral functions.

  • hrenda

    My problem with the way that our generation has been socialized into technology is that we are now fairly reliant upon it to interact with each other. I think it has certainly contributed negatively to our interpersonal skill. But good or bad, ICTs have definitely changed the way that we socialize with each other.
    I also believe that ICTs have changed the way we learn. The findings in that article make a lot of sense, and it’s our generation’s status as “digital natives” that has allowed for such rapid development of new and ever-improving technology. I think that training students in developing countries ICTs in school at a young age will initiate them into this new way of learning, ensuring that they, too, are “digital natives.” This will help these countries take better advantage of all ICTs have to offer.

  • bridgetslattery

    ICTs have definitely changed the way that we interact with each other but I do not think that it is only a negative impact. Tulane is over 1000 miles from my hometown and my closest friends from home are spread all over the country. Without the use of social networking sites and text messaging I sincerely believe that we would have grown apart. Last year I went 6 months without going home but still felt connected to all of my friends. I don’t think that there will ever be complete replacement for human interaction. I made my friends and home as well as in college through personal interaction, technology only allows us to communicate in new ways when physically not together.

    I am also very intrigued by the use of technology to prevent brain decay. Apps like luminosity and online games have a huge potential to keep the brian active. Simply possessing computer skills as an elderly person can open up a new avenue of interaction and brain exercise.

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