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Comparative to nearly all facets of life, the internet have also dramatically affected, negatively and positively, both the individual and the collective brains of mankind. Internet, considered one of the greatest human inventions, has enabled man to access, process, decode and store floods of information thereby enabling our brains to become highly adapted to handling multiple tasks simultaneously. Researches indicate that the internet boosts human cognitive ability, thereby having an overall brain boosting effect. A research carried out by the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the UCLA indicated that, middle-aged men and older adults who regularly accessed the internet not only had greater brain power, but the practice could aid in the prevention of cognitive decline common in old age in the forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (Hafner).
During the study, a group of 24 neurologically normal subjects aged between 55 and 76 half of whom had experienced web surfing, were subjected to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The finding indicated that, those who visited the web were better at decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings are supported by Garry Small, a research professor who experimentally confirmed that, emerging computerized technologies had far reaching physiological effects and potential benefits to both middle aged individuals and older adults, (Hafner). The complicated brain activity, evident in repeated internet surfing, helps in exercising the brain thereby improving the overall brain function. Spending considerable time on the internet improves the brain’s capacity to process information.
According to Hafner Katie, significant improvements in reading achievements have been observed on those who spend more time online, a fact attributable to the increased reading time on the internet. Additionally, findings indicate that children who spent and average 30 minutes daily scored higher on standardized test score and higher grade points averaged comparative to those who spent minimal time. The effects of the internet on the brain are linked to the availability of choices on the net which enables individuals to perform effective searching thereby engaging the critical cognitive circuits in the brain (Hafner 1998). The human brain is reportedly plastic and very sensitive to any forms of stimulation from moment to moment. Access to the internet therefore forms a series of complex cascades of petrochemical electrical consequences which forms the basis of brain stimulation.
In addition to the noted positive effects, the internet also has significant negative effects on the human brain. Maryanne Wolf, a psychologist at the Tufts University contend that, the internet has promoted immediacy and information overload, thereby weakening the individual capacity developed by the earlier technology such as the printing press. She notes that, the individual ability to interpret text and make rich mental connects, evident in hard text reading culture are largely disengaged due to multiple distractions commonplace in online reading. The internet has also been noted to having significant negative effect on individual attention span. Researches indicate that, the brain is continuously bombarded with information which would end up interfering with the brain’s sleeping patterns and sabotage its ability to concentrate. Its negative effects on the immune system could also have long term effects on the brain’s health, (Hafner 1998).
Some researchers have also noted that the internet can have the harmful effects of reducing deep thinking typical of true creativity. They note that, hyperlinks and overstimulation of the brain makes it lose its power and gives most of its focus on short-term decisions. Besides, the vast information pool available on the internet not only overwhelms the brain, but also impacts negatively the long term memory. Excess stimuli, they note, leads to large cognitive loads which makes it difficult to remember anything. Other researchers indicate that, the internet’s altering effects on the brain is evident on the human physical appearance. Young individuals are known to be lacking in human contact skills such as noticing non-verbal cues in a conversation or maintaining eye contact in humans.
Manual Castells affirms that, owing to the complex activity that goes around the brain when surfing, it is evident that spending time in the internet taxes certain sections of the brain that deal with temporary stuff thereby making deep thinking increasingly impossible. Time spent online therefore, invariably affect mental processes besides, it limits the brain’s sections that deal with the development of social skills. It is also evident that the process of juggling phone calls, e-mails, and other incoming information go a long way in changing how people think and behave, (Manual Castells). This indicates that, the brain of internet users may respond more impulsively to opportunities and threats which although may be good, may in the long turn be detrimental to individual concentration. Besides, although internet users boasts o f their capacity to multitask, it has been found that, multitasking leads not only to lack of focus, but may also result in fractured thinking (Manual Castells).
More adverse effects are noted on the First Monday where it’s contended that, several studies have linked excessive and voluntary online use to poor school performance, more impulsiveness, depression and even increased irritability. A 1998 study by psychiatrist, Kimberly Young which studied the gray matter at the brain’s cortex which controls speech, memory, emotion, sensory and motor control revealed interesting facts (First Monday). While for regular users, the section was well developed, there was considerably shrinking in the case of internet addicts with figures rising to as much as 10 and 20 percent. This indicates that, internet addiction adversely affects the supplementary motor area, parts of cerebellum, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulated cortex. Internet addiction is therefore linked to pronounced brain tissue reductions which are linked to negative effects such as diminished goal orientation and reduced inhibition of inappropriate behavior.
Conversely, the study also revealed that active online users had more developed white matter tissues, a part of the brain which links various regions together. There was an increase in white matter within the parahippocampal gyrus which is tied to memory formation and eventual retrieval (Hafner 1998). Besides, the white matter density within the left posterior limb of the internal capsule dropped relatively to other sections of the brain. This revealed that, while controlled internet use positively affected the overall individual brain development, addicted internet users found it difficult to permanently store and retrieve information (Hafner 1998). Conclusively, it is evident that the internet keeps the human brain active and has certainly aided in improving individual efficiency, although the information overload typical with internet addiction may have far reaching damaging effects on the human brain. Nonetheless, it is evident that internet has not only changed the way humans live and communicate, but has profoundly altered the individual human brain.