Humans have invested more brain power in making tools than any other animal. We all apply our minds to technology, but most of us don’t realize that it goes both ways. Technology literally shapes our brains. Research shows that the advent of language, writing and arithmetic changed human brains. So, what has the internet done to us?
A recent review in The Neuroscientist examines the impact of the internet on cognition. The findings ring all too true. Internet users show more browsing and scanning behaviors, including keyword spotting. They sustain less attention and retain less information. After all, why remember anything when we have Google?
The authors single out hyperlinks as a cause of shallow information processing. Hyperlinks make visual demands and carry decision costs. Clicking takes us to new information that we have to integrate with previous content. All this extra thinking doesn’t leave much brainpower for deep reading.
Deep reading requires inferential reasoning and critical analysis. It develops over a lifetime and reflects in neural changes. Reliance on the internet may prevent the relevant brain circuitry from developing. There’s research to suggest that internet use impairs the ability for deep reading.
On the other hand, there’s evidence to show that gamers may be better multitaskers. Brain studies suggest that gamers optimize their cognitive resources under competing demands. Multitasking can improve the integration of many sources of information. Unfortunately, it also reduces our ability to identify and ignore distractions.
Loh, K.K. and Kanai, R., 2016. How has the Internet reshaped human cognition? The Neuroscientist, 22(5), pp.506-520.
You can read the full paper on ResearchGate.
Featured image by Valeriy Khan on Unsplash.