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May 26, 2016

Are smart gadgets making you stupid?

The more you use your smartphone or tablet to read online, the more you learn – and the more you damage your brain.

Wait, what? Which is it? Are you keeping your brain fit by exercising your mental muscle or are you hurting it when you use the internet?

Dr. Gary Small“Internet causes mental symptoms, such as fatigue and memory problems. People [who are always online] are focused on their devices and are not paying attention to the outside world,” says Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA Longevity Center and editorial board member of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute.

Dr. Small is saying the brain is pretty much like many relationships: complicated. What a weird paradox that the more you feed your brain when you use the internet, the more you may be damaging it.

Digital dementia: big idea from Dr. Small

Digital dementia – that’s what Dr. Small calls the phenomenon. He arrived in the Philippines on April 25, 2016 to discuss the relationship between brain aging and internet use.

Our country was the last pit stop of Dr. Small’s Asia-Pacific Wellness Tour, which included Korea and Japan. During his tour, he talked about his newest book, 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain. It’s the sequel to his bestselling book, The Memory Bible, which he co-authored with Gigi Vorgan.

Digital dementia is just a coined term, however – it’s not a specific type of dementia. It’s a phrase meant to represent the relationship between technology and brain aging. (I will be writing about digital dementia in MIMS – watch for it!)

Gadget-dependent society: smarter yet dumber

Yes, the internet can make us so much smarter. Think virtual courses, online journals, and helpful information just a few clicks and an internet connection away.

However, using gadgets and surfing online can make us a little dumber, too, explains Dr. Small. Here’s how technology may hurt us even as it tries to help.

Playing violent video games makes us dumb at “recognizing happiness”

Yep, you better stop posting stuff that’s mostly full of angst on your Facebook timeline! Playing violent video games may dull your capacity to recognize happiness, even when it’s staring you in the face.

In a 2007 study published in Aggressive Behavior, almost 200 students played violent video games and then watched a series of neutral faces that transformed into other expressions, such as anger or joy.

Participants were then asked to identify that point in time when a neutral face started to show emotion. In general, they were quick to identify happy expressions. However, those who played violent video games recognized the happy facial expressions at a slower rate.

Caveat: Happy-face recognition skills aside, playing violent video games may still have its benefits.

Staying gadget-free means better nonverbal communication

Let me put it this way so that you can relate: When you use your phone too much, you become more clueless about what your crush (or mortal enemy) is truly thinking when s/he smiles at you.

After a group of elementary students spent five days in a nature camp – without access to TVs, cellphones, and tablets – they showed greater improvement in reading non-verbal cues than their peers who continued to use their gadgets.

The above study posits that if you use gadgets less, you are more likely to recognize nonverbal cues with better accuracy because you are also more likely to mingle with people.

Older people use fewer parts of the brain when they go online

Shout-out to all “tech-challenged” folks out there! Do you often wonder how kids nowadays know their internet like they were born to surf it?

According to Dr. Small’s 2009 study, tech-na├»ve people are less likely to use certain areas of the brain when searching online. On the other hand, tech-savvy people – here’s looking at you, millennials – use more areas of the brain, not just those associated with simple reading.

Want to know how to prevent digital dementia?

Here are 8 anti-ulyanin brain tips!

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