Can Computers Boost Your Brain?
Improve Your Memory and Think Faster
Once upon a time, television replaced radio, and now the Internet is on its way to replacing television. Scientists and academics have in recent years spent a lot of time and energy analyzing the online habits of adults and children to decipher how computers, video games and other digital devices affect the mind, and the results are a surprising mix.
According to the New York Times,
some scientists claim that the glut of digital information affects our ability to think and focus properly. Other studies, however, show that computer use can assist in learning and that some video games and brain-fitness programs help mental stimulation. Though there are researchers who disagree that brain-fitness programs are effective, some do praise their merits.
What the research shows
The bad news is that researchers question whether this quick-fix method of consuming information online is altering the way we think and focus. In a 2008 article in the Atlantic Monthly
– “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” – Nicholas Carr wrote that a decade spent surfing the Web has altered his reading habits: Reading lengthy prose was not a problem before, but now he finds his attention wandering after only a few pages. Information overload appears to be the culprit. We can access information at every turn and the Internet has made this so easy that some users qualify as digitally compulsive.
The good news:
Some computer activity has been known to boost brain power, including some video games (which have long been frowned upon). Discover Magazine
reports research conducted by scholars who found that although addictive, there are “cognitive benefits of playing video games: pattern recognition, system thinking, even patience.” The researchers further found that children who were good gamers were not necessarily bad students. “We had a hard time finding kids who were bad at school but good at games,” one of the researchers, James Gee, said in the article.
Computer use has also been known to assist preschoolers with learning. A 2004 study published in Pediatrics
found that youngsters who had access to computers tested better for school readiness and cognitive development.
The Alzheimers Association states that there is no current cure to prevent or delay the disease. But a 2006 study claimed that computer games can help improve patients’ cognitive abilities. In addition, health experts have been touting the benefits of not only physical but also “mental exercise” for quite some time.
Umur Celikyay, an academic, explains that “Computers and the Internet are great tools in the hands of able people and people who have clear goals. They are great catalysts for creativity... They facilitate research, access to information and organization. However, computers/Internet do not get the work done, and they certainly do not compensate for low-quality work.”
Train Your Brain
In recent years, brain fitness programs have enjoyed a huge surge in popularity: Discover
reports that “sales of ‘brain fitness’ software increased from a few million dollars in 2005 to $80 million in 2007….” Many of these programs are designed to sharpen your mind and improve mental alertness. CogniFit Personal Coach
is one such service that can help you to think faster, become more focused, and enhance your memory skills. InSight (by PositScience) is another software that UCSF researchers say greatly improves memory in older adults.
The effects are beneficial for adults of all ages—especially seniors, for whom a number of these online programs were designed. In addition to Cognifit Personal Coach, the company also offers CogniFit Senior Driver, aimed at sharpening one’s driving skills.
It’s expected that the popular surge of brain fitness programs will rise as research and studies about brain health and mental stimulation continue to evolve. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, as the famous slogan advises.