Researchers: Being Too Wired Can Fry Your Brain

Tuesday, 27 Mar 2012 01:51 PM

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Technology’s power to connect people across the globe also is raising concerns that social media can become an unhealthy addiction that rewires the brain, among other problems.

For example, Steve Daviss, a psychiatrist at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie, Md., told USA Today that research points to smartphones’ text and message alerts creating a reward system in the brain, releasing dopamine.

"For some people, that can turn into what looks a lot like addiction,” he said in a USA Today interview. “Some people have a harder time regulating their behavior in response to this reward. The ones who really can't turn it off in their brain are the ones who start to get in trouble."

Author Howard Rheingold, whose new book, “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online,” aims to help people take control of social media, recommends “mindful use” of electronic tools and gadgets, “not letting the tweet” demand attention, according to the USA Today report.

Smartphones “give us opportunities to enhance our lives, but also to disrupt our conventional lives,” Gary Small, a brain researcher at the University of California-Los Angeles, told national newspaper.

Small, who conducted research detailed in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry that found technology changes brains’ operation, said, "Our brains are sensitive to stimuli moment to moment, and if you spend a lot of time with a particular mental experience or stimulus, the neural circuits that control that mental experience will strengthen.

“At the same time, if we neglect certain experiences, the circuits that control those will weaken. If we're not having conversations or looking people in the eye—human contact skills — they will weaken."

Larry Rosen, a research psychologist and computer educator at California State University, told USA Today that “we have become very enmeshed with our technologies . . . it is affecting every single aspect of our world.”

Rosen’s new book, “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold On Us,” details how some people’s overuse of technology has led to symptoms of issues like narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and depression, according to the USA Today report.

For some, being connected to so many others can make them feel inferior. “Facebook depression” was cited in the American Academy of Pediatrics, when young people who use social media a lot show symptoms of depression because they feel their lives aren't as interesting as others they read about, USA Today reported.

The benefits of our wired world are emphasized in “Networked: The New Social Operating System,” to be published in May. “Both the Internet and mobile revolution have, generally speaking, changed our lives for the better,” said co-author Barry Wellman. A sociologist who directs Netlab at the University of Toronto, Wellman added: “Anything that makes people more connected at a lower cost with greater global reach enhances our lives."


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