Searching the internet is good for your brain

Just a week’s internet training can boost brain function in middle-aged and older adults, according to UCLA scientists.

They were able to trigger key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning after just one week of surfing the web, suggesting that internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults.

“We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,” said study author Dr Gary Small.

The team worked with 24 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Prior to the study, half the participants used the internet daily, while the other half had very little experience.

Study participants performed web searches while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which track brain activity by measuring cerebral blood flow.

After the initial scan, participants went home and conducted internet searches for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. They then received a second brain scan using the same task but with different topics.

The first scan of participants with little internet experience demonstrated brain activity in regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities.

The second scan, conducted after the practice searches at home, demonstrated activation of these same regions and also triggered areas of the brain known to be important in working memory and decision-making.

Thus, after internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy internet users.

“The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults,” said Teena D Moody, the study’s first author and a senior research associate at the Semel Institute at UCLA.

The results were presented yesterday at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.