Friday, January 27, 2012

This is Your Brain on the Internet

It's official - the Internet causes brain damage.

If scores of cat videos, sneezing pandas, Rick Astley's surprise comeback and the Trololol guy weren't enough to convince you, then you should check out this article on Mashable.

According to the article a recent study has shown that excessive internet usage (at the point it might legitimately qualify as an addiction) "can cause structural damage to your brain".

The study in question went a step further than most research on "Internet Addiction Disorder" (not yet an official diagnosis but likely to be included in the next edition of the DSM) and performed brain imaging on its subjects.

Their findings indicated that "IAD subjects are associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving in emotional processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control."

In other words there were actual physical differences in the brains of people suffering from IAD. It is important to note that the study only demonstrates a correlation - we do not know whether these physical differences make people more susceptible to Internet addiction or whether Internet addiction actually changes the brain.

Internet addiction has become a serious problem in China, where the study was conducted. In several extreme cases people have died in Internet cafes after spending several days straight gaming.

Realistically, most of us will not be affected to this extreme but if you're like me, you may find yourself getting a little restless when you're offline and want to check your email or find the answer to some burning question like "What was the father's name on ALF?" (It's Willie Tanner, BTW)

In case you're worried, here are some of the proposed criteria for diagnosis for IAD:
  1. excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 
  2. withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 
  3. tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use,
  4. negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue
Actually, that sounds like a normal day at the office to me.

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