Web searching boosts brain capacity

Browsing online could increase brain capacity among net-savvy elders.

Searching the internet could provide valuable mental exercise for computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults, according to a group of American scientists.

A world-first study from the University of California, Los Angeles found that web browsing triggers key centres in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning.

“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerised technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” said principal investigator Dr Gary Small.

“Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.”

Traditionally, games such as crossword puzzles have been recommended for maintaining brain function but now scientists are beginning to assess the influence of computer use – including the internet.

The researchers performed brain scans on 24 ‘neurologically normal’ participants between the ages of 55 and 76 while they engaged in a range of online activities.

Half of the group was experienced internet searchers but the other 12 were not.

Brain scans were also performed on the participants during a book reading exercise.

All participants demonstrated similar levels of brain activity during the book-reading task but the experienced web users showed extensive brain activity while surfing the net.

“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 Dr Small.

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