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Is Googling Good for Your Brain?

Surfing the Web may seem mindless at times, but new research indicates googling may help keep your brain sharp.

A growing body of evidence is supporting the "use-it-or-lose-it" hypothesis of aging well. It says staying mentally active helps keep the brain spry. So far, research has focused on reading, doing crossword puzzles, learning languages and other traditional mental calisthenics. The new study, which will be published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, is the first to examine whether spending a lot of time searching the internet keeps those synapses fired up.


Web-savvy volunteers had a twofold increase in brain activation compared to the web-naive. The blue images represent the brain activity of people who hardly use the Web. The red images are for those who surf the Internet frequently. (Photo courtesy of UCLA)
Gary Small and his colleagues at UCLA did brain scans on 24 healthy volunteers ages 55 to 76 while they read and as they searched the web for information, such as the benefits of chocolate, the names of U.S. mountains or how to pick a car. Half the group routinely surfed the web in their daily lives, while the other half did so only rarely. Otherwise, they were pretty much the same.


All the volunteers showed significant brain activity while reading, with parts of the brain involved in language, reading, memory and visual ability lighting up. But the researchers found big differences in the brains of the "web savvy" and those who were "web naive." The web-savvy volunteers showed more brain activity when they were reading, and much more when they were surfing as other parts of the brain involved in control decision-making and complex reasoning also lit up. Overall the web-savvy volunteers had a twofold increase in brain activation compared to the web-naive.

The findings suggest that browsing the web may give the brain a more extensive work-out than old-fashioned reading, perhaps because it requires more thinking -- we have to make choices, for example, as we sift among the webpages.

Although much more research is needed to try to confirm the findings and explore exactly what they mean, the researchers say the study suggests that browsing is another activity that older people can use to try to keep their thinking abilities in shape and that even old brains can learn new tricks.

How much time do you spend on the web? Do you think it's making you sharper?

By Rob Stein  |  October 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alzheimers/Dementia , Seniors  
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