Brains, Thumbs, and Great Attentional Abilities
Are cellphones and the internet rewiring our brains?
May 21, 2007
By Sabrina Saccoccio, CBC News
Try reading this article to the end without checking e-mail. Find you can't? Before making assumptions of addictive behaviour, you should know there's a positive side to switching tasks often.
You may actually be training your brain to become faster and stronger.
Studies are beginning to show that cellphone-toting execs and Facebook-friendly teens may be multi-tasking their way into taking on even more, by rewiring their brains to handle it.
The action of using a cellphone or e-mail has an immediate effect on the brain. Answering calls and thumbing texts prepares the human brain to take on such tasks — because its circuitry adapts to the environment it's presented with.
"People will often ask me, 'Are kids today different to kids 20 years ago?' Well, yes, they are. Because the world is different, their brains have wired up in a different way," explains Dr. Martin Westwell, deputy director of Institute for the Future of the Mind at Britain's Oxford University.
For a change, malleable young brains aren't the only ones to benefit. As Westwell points out, "Even during adulthood this happens. The environment in which we find ourselves is really reflected in the way our brain cells rewire."
In fact, Westwell thinks people who grew up with cellphones and instant messaging aren't necessarily better at juggling tasks. Surprisingly, a study he conducted found 35- to 39-year-olds were more able to return to difficult mental tasks after being interrupted by nagging cellphone calls than their 18- to 21-year-old counterparts.
"The older group are just better at switching attention," Westwell says. "What we suspect is, as you get older you have to do more of this multi-tasking."
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