How the internet is affecting the human brain: Multitasking and relying on Google
How the internet is affecting the human brain: Multitasking and relying on Google to jog our memories is impacting on our concentration and social skills
· Researchers from UK, U.S. and Australia looked at how internet affects the brain
· Found that constantly flicking between items online reduces ability to focus
· Also revealed people memorise less and rely on internet to find out information
Spending time on the internet is reducing our ability to focus on one task at a time - and it means we no longer store facts in our brains.
Our lives have been forever changed by gaining access to infinite amounts of information at the touch of a button, but the way our head works has too.
A new review looking into the effect of the online world on our brain functions from researchers in the UK, US and Australia, has drawn a number of surprising conclusions.
The review focused on the world wide web's influence in three areas: attention spans, memory, and social cognition.
It notes that the internet is now 'unavoidable, ubiquitous, and a highly functional aspect of modern living' before diving into how it has changed our society.
Professor Jerome Sarris, an author on the paper, told Medical News Today the online world could have far reaching consequences.
He said: 'The bombardment of stimuli via the internet, and the resultant divided attention commonly experienced, presents a range of concerns.
'I believe that this, along with the increasing #Instagramification of society, has the ability to alter both the structure and functioning of the brain, while potentially also altering our social fabric.'
The review found that people who regularly multitask online, by checking different social media sites such as Facebook or streaming entertainment, struggle to focus on a single task.
Constant use of the internet, via our smartphones or laptops, means that many of us have developed 'checking' behaviours - where the user looks at their phone regularly, but only for short periods of time.
Joseph Firth, another author of the review, told Medical News Today: '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.'
Another aspect dealt with in the review is memory, and our reliance on the internet for information.
People are less and less likely memorise information - in fact, one study found people are more likely to know where certain details could be found online, rather than the content itself.
Although this means people are more reliant on the internet, it has been suggested that this could help 'free up' brain power that could be used on more 'ambitious undertakings than previously possible'.
Finally, the review examined the differences between online and offline social interaction.
Although social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram mean people interact with more users, friendship groups have stayed roughly the same size.
These five hierarchical layers - primary partners, intimate relationships, best friends, close friends, and all friends - range from 1 to 150 in size, but appear to be the same online and offline.
The review notes: 'Given the evidence above, an appropriate metaphor for the relationship between online and real‐world sociality could be a "new playing field for the same game".'
However, where the two differ can cause problems - acceptance and rejection can be quantified in 'friends' or 'followers', rather than staying ambiguous.
It also showcases 'hyper-successful individuals' that can create unrealistic expectations, particularly for younger people.
Although the internet can have negative impacts on the young, older people can benefit, as it can help with social interaction.
HOW CAN I REDUCE MY INTERNET USE?
There are a number of tricks you can use to try and reduce your internet use.
Often people lose track of how much time they are spending online - set a timer, or use an app to stop you using Facebook or other social media sites for too long.
Many people check their phones as soon as they wake up - especially if you set your alarm on your mobile - so it may be helpful to buy an actual alarm clock and keep your phone out of your bedroom.
It's incredibly easy to get sucked in by a constant stream of notifications on your phone, luring you back to certain sites. Disable notifications and check your phone periodically, rather than constantly.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal World Psychiatry,