This is as interesting to read as it is well-designed. It’s beautifully laid out.
Note: Link points to a PDF.
Gary Small and colleagues carried out a novel study of how the brains of middle-aged and older participants respond when using an internet search engine. Compared with reading text, they found that internet searching increased activation in several regions of the brain, but only amongst those participants with internet experience. Based on the regions involved, the researchers suggested that internet searching alters the brain’s responsiveness in neural circuits controlling decision making and complex reasoning (in frontal regions, anterior cingulate and hippocampus). However, because an uncontrolled task was used, it is difficult to know what cognitive processes the participants were carrying out. This is a problem when attempting to draw conclusions about neural differences. It is possible that, even when they were supposed to be searching, less experienced users were spending more time reading text while their ‘savvy’ users who had learnt how to use search engines were using sophisticated search strategies. After five days of training for an hour a day, the internet-naïve participants were producing similar activations as their more experienced counterparts… . Changes in neural activation in different regions can be expected when learning any task for the first time. For example, after adults learned to carry out complex multiplication, the brain activity produced by carrying out this task shifted from frontal to posterior regions (suggesting less working memory load and more automatic processing).