Surfing the Internet stimulates middle-aged and elderly brains more than reading a book. In fact, the more you surf, the more stimulation of blood flow to the brain.
At left, a functional Magnetic Resonance Image (fMRI) of the brain while reading a book and at right, the brain while surfing the web. The red areas indicate increased blood flow.
From the press release at UCLA :
For the study, the UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal research volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Half of the study participants had experience searching the Internet, while the other half had no experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.
Study participants performed Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during these activities. This type of scan tracks the intensity of cell responses in the brain by measuring the level of cerebral blood flow during cognitive tasks.
All study participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, demonstrating use of the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities, which are located in the temporal, parietal, occipital and other areas of the brain.
Internet searches revealed a major difference between the two groups. While all participants demonstrated the same brain activity that was seen during the book-reading task, the Web-savvy group also registered activity in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning.
“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 Small, who is also the director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center.
In fact, researchers found that during Web searching, volunteers with prior experience registered a twofold increase in brain activation when compared with those with little Internet experience.
The research is to be published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Additional coverage at the BBC and the UK’s Daily Mail. Thanks to blog.bioethics.net for first alerting me to this study.
(Edited at 6 AM for citations and to add image.)