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Scientists reveal how internet use changes the structure of children’s brains

Scientists reveal how internet use changes the structure of children’s brains

Researchers have found that high levels of internet use could be having an effect on many functions of children’s brains. Time for some ‘internet hygiene’, perhaps.

Scientists reveal how internet use changes the structure of children’s brains

An international team of researchers has found the internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions in children.

The team of researchers from Western Sydney University, Harvard University, Kings College, Oxford University and University of Manchester detailed how the internet could affect the brain’s structure, function and cognitive development in children.

“The key findings of this report are that high-levels of internet use could indeed impact on many functions of the brain. For example, the limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention – which then in turn may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task,” said research lead Dr Joseph Firth.

“Additionally, the online world now presents us with a uniquely large and constantly accessible resource for facts and information, which is never more than a few taps and swipes away. Given we now have most of the world’s factual information literally at our fingertips, this appears to have the potential to begin changing the ways in which we store, and even value, facts and knowledge in society, and in the brain.”

Dr Firth says although more research is needed, avoiding the potential negative effects could be as simple as ensuring that children are not missing out on other crucial developmental activities, such as social interaction and exercise, by spending too much time on digital devices.

“To minimise the potential adverse effects of high-intensity multi-tasking internet usage, I would suggest mindfulness and focus practice, along with use of ‘internet hygiene’ techniques (e.g. reducing online multitasking, ritualistic ‘checking’ behaviours, and evening online activity), while engaging in more in-person interactions,” said a senior author of the report, Professor Jerome Sarris.

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