Your Brain on Computers –

Article yesterday on the brain-altering effects of constant computer use. It’s a complex topic and I think a lot more research is needed, but there is certainly something going on. The reporter, Matt Richtel, won a Pulitzer last year for his series on distracted driving while using cellphones. (I’m quoted in the article, but not by name.)

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive.

In its absence, people feel bored.The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people like Mr. Campbell, these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

via Your Brain on Computers – Attached to Technology and Paying a Price –

I took the Stanford test for ability to concentrate. (online version – I assume it’s close to the real thing but I don’t know)  I’m not persuaded that it’s very relevant to real life. But there is certainly something important going on, it will just take a lot more work to disentangle. Other comments

  • I scored 100% on the test, which means the test is not good at discriminating subtle variations. I see there’s another test – I will try it tonight.
  • The graph showing differences between heavy and light multitaskers seems to indicate a very small difference. Standard errors are not shown, and if the sample size is large enough the difference will still be “statistically significant,” but that does not mean it’s big enough to be important.  If I weren’t so busy, I’d read the academic article!
  • The discussion talks about “online” as the problem, but from my observation the problem is “computer use,” whether online or offline. You can juggle watching a movie, editing your blog, and playing a casual game, all at the same time. (Not that I’ve seen this behavior, yet.)
  • In 10 years will we be giving medication to teenagers to help them concentrate, to undo the effects of computer overstimulation? Oops, we already are. (e.g. Provigil) This is typical of how we run up the cost of American health care.

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