Multi-tasking shrinks your brain

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Scientists have warned that watching television while checking social media and surfing the web may alter the brain.

Scientists believe that multitasking with television, laptops, tablets and mobile phones may cause brain damage, which could trigger emotional problems and depression.

They state that many people watch television whilst surfing the internet, known as ‘second screening’, but this could be harmful.

Researchers based at the University of Sussex discovered that a particular part of the brain, known as the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) was smaller in those who used the most electronic devices at the same time. This is the part of the brain which regulates emotions and is responsible for reasoning, empathy, impulse control and decision making.

In Britain, almost two-thirds of teenagers make use of a second screen whilst watching television.

The researchers have admitted that those with smaller ACCs may have a predisposition to using more media devices, however they claim that it is ‘equally plausible’ that too much technology is causing direct damage to the brain.

Neuroscientist, Kep kee Loh, said that media multitasking is becoming more prevalent nowadays and there is concern about the impact it has on our social-emotional well-being and cognition. Loh said this study is the first to reveal links between brain structure and media multitasking.

Loh stated that they consider it important to indicate that the manner in which we are interacting with these devices may result in a change in our thinking methods and the changes may be happening at the brain structure level.

Scientists have previously been able to demonstrate that the brain may be changed by prolonged exposure to new experiences and environments.

It has been found that London taxi drivers who have learned ‘The Knowledge’ have a larger hippocampus compared with others. This is the part of the brain which is linked with navigation in animals and birds.

It has also been indicated that jugglers increase the white matter present in their brains by practicing, which is said to speed up reaction time and movement.

The team from the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness scanned the brains of 75 volunteers and asked them to answer questions about their use of computers, mobile phones, print media and television.

It was found that those who made use of a higher number of devices had smaller grey matter density in the ACC.

This new research supports previous studies which show links between high media-multitasking activity and poor attention when faced with distractions, as well as emotional issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Loh said that the exact reasons for the changes have not been clarified.

He said it is conceivable that people with small ACCs are more prone to multitasking situations due to their weaker ability in socio-emotional regulation and cognitive control, but it is also plausible that increased levels of exposure to multitasking situations leads to structural adjustments in the ACC.

Loh stated that a longitudinal study is needed to determine the exact direction of causation.

Image Credit: Robert S. Donovan

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