September 20, 2013
Online Time Is A Brain Buster
[ Watch the Video: Facebook Time Impacts Working Memory ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe OnlineYou may be losing the capacity to store valuable memories or take in information by spending too much time online – except when reading stories on redOrbit, of course.
All joking aside, the human brain can be overwhelmed by the flood of information pouring off our computer screen – according to Erik Fransén, a researcher from Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
The Sweden-based researcher focuses on the brain’s short-term, or working memory and ways to treat diseased neurons. He said that a brain can easily become scrambled by information overload after being exposed to a normal session of social media browsing. The result is that less information from the working memory gets archived into long-term storage.
“Working memory enables us to filter out information and find what we need in the communication,” he said. “It enables us to work online and store what we find online, but it’s also a limited resource.”
Previous research has shown that working memory has limits. At any one time, the working memory can juggle up to three or four items, according to Fransén. When we try to keep even more information up in the air, to extend the juggling metaphor, our ability to process information crashes to the ground.
“When you are on Facebook, you are making it harder to keep the things that are ‘online’ in your brain that you need,” he said. “In fact, when you try to process sensory information like speech or video, you are going to need partly the same system of working memory, so you are reducing your own working memory capacity.”
“And when you try to store many things in your working memory, you get less good at processing information,” he added.
Fransén said the sensory shock-and-awe of the Internet also takes time away from the brain performing some necessary housekeeping, as our minds are built for both activity and relaxation.
“The brain is made to go into a less active state, which we might think is wasteful; but probably memory consolidation, and transferring information into memory takes place in this state,” he said. “Theories of how memory works explain why these two different states are needed.”
“When we max out our active states with technology equipment, just because we can, we remove from the brain part of the processing, and it can’t work,” Fransén added.
For those looking to reboot their brains, WebMD lists several helpful exercises design to shift the mind into a lower gear. One of the simplest is simply a deep breathing exercise.
“Give yourself a 5-minute break from whatever is bothering you and focus instead on your breathing,” the website advises. “Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.”
WebMD also recommends meditative and mindfulness exercises that many people with chronic health conditions use to help alleviate stress and enhance overall well-being.