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Internet searches MIGHT have a positive effect on brain functions of middle-aged adults. Here’s a snippet (emphasis mine):

UCLA scientists have found that for computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults, searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings demonstrate that Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function. The study, the first of its kind to assess the impact of Internet searching on brain performance, is currently in press at the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and will appear in an upcoming issue.

“Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA who holds UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging.

For the study, the UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Half of the study participants had experience searching the Internet, while the other half had no experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.

Study participants performed Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which… tracks the intensity of cell responses in the brain by measuring the level of cerebral blood flow during cognitive tasks.

All study participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, demonstrating use of the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities…

Internet searches revealed a major difference between the two groups. While all participants demonstrated the same brain activity that was seen during the book-reading task, the Web-savvy group also registered activity in the… areas of the brain which control decision-making and complex reasoning.

…researchers found that during Web searching, volunteers with prior experience registered a twofold increase in brain activation when compared with those with little Internet experience. The tiniest measurable unit of brain activity registered by the fMRI is called a voxel. Scientists discovered that during Internet searching, those with prior experience sparked 21,782 voxels, compared with only 8,646 voxels for those with less experience.

…the Internet’s wealth of choices requires that people make decisions about what to click on in order to pursue more information, an activity that engages important cognitive circuits in the brain.

“A simple, everyday task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older,” Small said.

Small added that the minimal brain activation found in the less experienced Internet group may be due to participants not quite grasping the strategies needed to successfully engage in an Internet search, which is common while learning a new activity.”With more time on the Internet, they may demonstrate the same brain activation patterns as the more experienced group,” he said.

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There are a few caveats though, the study didn’t differentiate between the levels of prior internet searching knowledge (maybe one was a power googler while another might’ve only searched for porn before). One more caveat, the participants in the study may have been through ‘self-selecting bias’.

Does anyone know if Google funded this study? It Seems that a good way to increase the web search market share is to reel in those baby boomers into searching as a preventive measure against Alzheimer’s disease.

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