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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Technology Wires the Learning Brain by Tina Barseghian

Kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 11.5 hours a day using technology — whether that’s computers, television, mobile phones, or video games – and usually more than one at a time. That’s a big chunk of their 15 or 16 waking hours.

But does that spell doom for the next generation? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist and professor at UCLA, who spoke at the Learning & the Brain Conference last week.

"Young people are born into technology, and they’re used to using it 24/7,” Small said. “Their brains are wired to use it elegantly." 

Video games, for example, aren’t just about repetitive tasks – many of them have built-in social components that allow kids to communicate. Texting isn’t about using a gadget — it’s about connecting with someone else.

"Texting is an expression of what it means to be human,” Small said. “We love being connected to other people. It’s a very compelling emotional urge, and it’s hard to give up moment to moment."

That’s why one well-liked teacher Small knows gives her students a five-minute texting break in the middle of class. Educators also use texting in class as a means to gauge understanding of the subject and take instant polls, for example.

In a study called "Your Brain on Google," Small and his peers tested the brain activity of two groups — "Internet-naïve" (mostly 65 and older who had very little experience online) and "Internet smart"– while reading a book versus conducting a Google search.

In the "Internet savvy" group, there was twice as much brain activity in all parts of the brain while they were conducting a Google search than while they were reading a book. And in the "Internet-naïve" group, after a week of Googling subjects online, there was a significant burst in frontal lobe activity, which controls short-term memory and decision-making.

Small’s conclusion? "Google is making us smart,” he said. “Searching online is brain exercise."

Related link
Dr. Gary Small 

For more about Your Brain on Google, watch this video:

Source: KQED