"We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing searches for even a relatively short period of time can change patterns and enhance function," Dr. Gary Small, study author and professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said in a statement.
he UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Prior to the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.
The participants performed Web searches while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during this activity. This type of scan tracks brain activity by measuring the level of blood flow in the brain during cognitive tasks. While the study involves a small number of people and more research on this topic is needed, small study sizes are typical of fMRI-based research.
After the initial brain scan, subjects went home and conducted Internet searches for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. These practice searches involved using the web to answer questions about various topics by exploring different websites and reading information. Participants then received a second brain scan using the same Internet simulation task, but with different topics.
The first scan of participants with little Internet experience showed brain activity in the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities. The second brain scan of these participants, conducted after the home practice searches, demonstrated activation of these same regions, but there was also activity in the middle frontal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus – areas of the brain known to be important in working memory and decision-making.
Thus, after Internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users.
Why don't I see that happening in real life? Either they need to use greater numbers of test subjects, or I'm being too hard on my dear old family member.
But now there's scientific data to suggest that the Internet is getting into our BRAINS! Not just via computers, but also through smartphones, tablets, and any other device that can use the Internet.
We've got to design our websites with user's brains in mind, but perhaps user's brains are being designed with our websites in mind, too. That's strange, exciting, and creepy!