Sunday, 19 October 2008
Googling is good for you. No, really.
A team of US researchers has found that searching the internet stimulates brain activity in the elderly and middle-aged and may help keep their minds sharp.
The study was carried out by scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The UCLA scientists found that searching the web triggers key centres in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning and may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function.
"The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerised technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults," said Dr Gary Small, the principal investigator of the study.
"Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function," said Small, a professor at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour.
The study's authors noted that their findings are the latest to suggest that complex activity that keeps the mind engaged, such as crossword puzzles, may help keep the brain healthy.
The UCLA researchers said they tested 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76, half with experience searching the internet and half with no experience.
The study participants performed web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which record brain-circuitry changes.
They all showed significant brain activity during book reading and web searching, but the internet-savvy group registered a twofold increase in brain activation during web use when compared with those with little internet experience.
They said the web-savvy group also registered greater activity in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning.
"Our most striking finding was that internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading - but only in those with prior internet experience," said Small.
"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," he added.
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