Technology & The Brain: Impact, Uses & Disadvantages

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson looks at how technology has impacted the brain. The lesson discusses how modern information technology has created both positive and negative impacts, and how it can be used to enhance brain functioning.

The Wonder of it All

Fascination is a part of human development. Light draws the rapt attention of an infant, a toddler marvels at the intricacies of a cardboard box, and everyone, whether child or adult, is captured by the shiny, new advent of technology. Computers, phones, and video games both enthrall and inform. They also change the way the brain perceives the outside world.

Of course, new technology, no matter the purpose, is a wonder when it is first introduced. Eventually, it may become commonplace, but in the beginning it is awe-inspiring. The problem with technology, however, is that it takes away some of the function that used to be the purview of the brain. Calculators mean that individuals no longer have to work out complicated calculations; a computer means that information is readily available and replaces a long slog through files and library archives; cell phones provide information, directions, weather reports, and communication instantly. It doesn't seem like there is much left for the brain to do anymore. So what impact does technology have on brain function? How can technology be used to support brain function (or can it)? What are the disadvantages to the human psyche?

Technology's Impact on the Brain

Scientists have been researching how new technologies impact brain functioning since the telephone was first introduced. Initially, it was thought that language skills would diminish and that people would forget how to write when all they had to do was make a call. Later, when personal computers first became available, people worried that too much information would stifle brain development. Fortunately, none of this has come true.

Recent research has proven that information technology is beneficial, but in ways no one could have predicted. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered that in middle-aged adults, internet searches stimulate centers of the brain meant for decision making and complex reasoning. They believe that this could lead to an increase in efficient brain function as people age. Other researchers have noted that the human brain is having to quickly evolve to compensate for the information overload. It's no wonder that younger people are considered more technologically savvy. Their brains are more malleableā€¦better able to adapt to the changes forced upon them.

Positive Use of Technology

Because there is such a demand on brain power these days, people are trying to discover new means of self-enhancement. Unfortunately, this is a demand for instantaneous change. People don't want to wait; they want to be able to access their true brain potential right now!

Authors of brain-training programs advertise that it is possible to improve an individual's intelligence quotient (IQ) - the capacity to learn - and even stave off dementia. Scientists have not found these claims to be entirely factual. Brain-training programs do work to some extent, but they are limited. They cannot increase a person's intelligence or reduce the risk of dementia. As a matter of fact, some of these companies have been sued, and lost the cases, when it was found they could not deliver on their promises.

But what about other uses of technology? Doctors have been using different technologies to help them diagnose and treat people with brain trauma and the results have been encouraging. Imaging technology has made it possible to locate the spot of the trauma so that treatment can be more precise. This type of technology also increases the speed with which a diagnosis can be made and treatment begun. Greater understanding of individual genetics has prompted research into medications that are specifically targeted to an individual. This means that there is a greater chance that cancers and other conditions can be treated.

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