A literature review of the impact of the Internet on the brain

In this report published by Nominet Trust out of the UK, a neuroscientist compiles the latest research in neuroscience about the impact of the Internet on our brains. As with most academic ventures, no real conclusions are drawn and lots of caveats populate the pages, but this is a well put together compilation of the state of knowledge on the subject. Below are some take aways from the executive summary that I liked.

On painting with broad strokes -

Rather than label any type of technology as being good or bad for our brain, it is how specific applications are created and used (by who, when and what for) that determine their impact.

On offline behavior influencing online behavior -

Existing forms of online communication for supporting existing friendships are generally beneficial for their users, with little basis for considering that social network sites and online communication, in themselves, are a source of special risk to children. Internet-related abuse (eg inappropriate sexual solicitation, cyberbullying) appears related to issues beyond the use of the internet.

On learning and the Internet -

The internet is a valuable learning resource and all learning involves changes in the brain. Some technology-based types of training can improve working memory, and others can provide mental stimulation that helps slow cognitive decline

On sleep -

Evidence linking technology-based activity to a reduction in physical exercise is mixed, but how and when technology is used does appear to influence sleep. In particular, late night technology use is linked to reduction in sleep and sleep quality, and teenagers who use their mobile phones after “lights out” are considerably more likely to suffer daytime sleepiness. Again, games may be different from most other types of
technology in their influence on neurobiological processes, with some evidence that they can disrupt children’s sleep and learning even when played early in the evening