Surf the web for your mental health

October 22, 2008

Every day, I’m getting better at making tough decisions. I know this because searching the Internet stimulates the parts of my brain that control decision making and complex reasoning.

Every day, I'm getting better at making tough decisions. I know this because searching the Internet stimulates the parts of my brain that control decision making and complex reasoning. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles found this out using functional MRI on computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults while they surfed the web. I extrapolated.

Much of my time during the day is spent on the web, looking for news bytes to report on. Not all of these make it into DI SCAN. Here are two that didn't.

  • The American Society of Radiologic Technologists is sponsoring the 29th annual National Radiologic Technology Week, Nov. 2 to 8, to celebrate one of the greatest medical discoveries ever made by Wilhelm Roentgen on Nov. 8, 1895. (I will report on celebrations like this one, but not for another 87 years.)
  • Putney, a pharmaceutical company that develops generic drugs for pets, reported that the current bear market will not hamper its plans to roll out a line of pet-specific pharmaceuticals. (My searches for PET sometimes take an odd turn, although this one got points for the pun about the "bear." Whether it was intended, I don't know.)

The UCLA research examining the effect of web searching on brain health was a third example, but it became the exception that proves the rule.

I am led to believe by the results of this research that not including the first two items reflects good decision making, since just finding them sharpened my cognitive skills. And it's a good thing I spend as much time as I do on the web. Experience surfing the Internet apparently is a big factor in getting the maximum benefits.Dr. Gary Small, the UCLA expert on aging who interpreted the fMRI data, compared two groups: one with experience and one without. He and his team found that during web searching, the experienced group had a twofold increase in brain activation compared with those who don't know a website from a construction site. In fact, they discovered that during Internet searching, those with prior experience sparked 21,782 voxels, compared with only 8646 for those with less experience. Exercising my brain on the Internet helps keep structural and functional changes at bay, none of which, by the way, are good. Without such exercise, my brain would atrophy, cell activity would plummet, and deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles would increase. If it weren't for the Internet, I'd have to do things like solve crossword puzzles to preserve my brain health, according to Dr. Small. I have always hated crossword puzzles. They take too long and always include questions whose answers I wouldn't know without the help of Google. How's that for irony?