To see just how our wires are rewiring us, a group of four neuroscientists at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) recently recruited 24 people, ranging in age from 55 to 76, to undergo brain imaging while they engaged in an Internet task. Half of the participants were considered Net Naïve, meaning they went online just once or twice a week, and half were Net Savvy, meaning they went online at least once a day. All the participants had their brains scanned during two tests: a traditional reading condition, in which they read text presented in the format of a book, and an Internet condition, in which they performed a Web search then read content displayed on a simulated Web page.
On the traditional reading task, the Naïve and Savvy groups demonstrated more or less the same brain activity, as one would expect. Each group used regions of the brain connected to language, memory, and of course reading. During the Web task, however, the neural activity between the two groups differed strikingly. When Naïve participants examined a Web page, they used the same brain regions as during traditional reading. When the Savvy group used the Internet, a number of additional brain regions were activated — including those linked to decision making and complex reasoning. The Savvy group demonstrated twice as much neural activity as the Naïve group: 21,782 voxels of the brain scan to 8,646, for those keeping score at home.