back to article Internet searches stimulate brain more than books

Searching the Internet may stimulate and help improve brain function more than reading a book. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have found that searching the web triggers centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning in middle-aged and older adults. But while web browsing may …


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  1. Watashi

    Hunting vs grazing

    Reading is a largely passive activity, you pick up a book and the information is piped directly into your brain. Web searching is very different as rather than taking the information at face value, the expert data gatherer has learned that to track down the information they need, they must search for it from a variety of mixed quality sources and then interpret what they find to judge its usefulness.

    This finding really shouldn't be a surprise. If we asked which would employ the most brain areas - reading Wayne Rooney's biography or going to your local library to make your own biography of Rooney - the answer would be clear. The inexperienced library user will probably just head to the biography section, but the experienced library user will include the newspaper microfiche, histories of Everton and Man United football clubs etc. Then they will have to compare all the sources to try and find what is true and what is false.

    I'd say web searching probably mirrors human hunter gathering behaviour, perhaps specifically the type of data gathering techniques we employed when our day-to-day survival depended on knowing exactly what the other members of our social group were up to.

  2. Magani


    Is that anything like 'inexperienced'?

    ("Small suggests the unexperienced may register less brain activity...")

    Must go and stimulate my voxels.

    Mine's the one with the OED in the pocket.

  3. Laurent_Z
    Thumb Down

    "same same, but different"

    Go to your favorite couch, open a book, read it. what do you use actively ?

    Mosty your eyes, and a finger or two every minute or so, for what is mostly a passive data reception activity.

    Go to your favorite chair. launch firef*x, search for something of interest. what do you use actively ?

    Mostly your eyes, a finger or two every minute or so - remember : article is about oldies -55 to 76 yo 8)

    And your memory to remember what you were searching for, and your analytical skills to sort the result, and your decison making process to choose between the many results, for what is mostly an active data seeking activity.

    Same same. but different.

    Thanks very much to that bunch of scientists that used grants/budget, thousands of euro of hardware and occupied a bunch of people for what they could have deducted in about 5 minutes of light pondering.

    Ah, sorry. It's science ! Proof ! Irrefutable evidence that is supporting what was merely ... evident ! Poor dumb me 8p

  4. Chris Shewchuk
    Paris Hilton


    Another sound reason for Nicholas Carr to shove his self-pitying "the internet is making me stupid" attitude where the sun don't shine. Jackass. The only person who can make you stupid is yourself, and that's through a lack of analytical thinking. for anybody who doesn't know what I'm talking about.

  5. Neoc


    "In the meantime, here's another bit of pretext for techies to be so smug."

    I need a pretext?

  6. Steven Knox
    Thumb Down

    What Books?

    I wonder what books they used for this test. Were the subjects allowed to chose something that interested them, or were they forced to read a specific book or one from a list? Was the subject matter informative (i.e,primarily stimulating only data retention) or entertaining (possibly stimulating data retention, visualization, problem-solving, etc.) My guess is that people were simply less interested in the book-reading tasks, and so less engaged.

    Ironically, (from the UCLA newsroom) '[a]dditional details on the study ... are highlighted in Small's new book, "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," published today' -- meaning that to learn just how they determined that reading a book is less stimulating, you have to... read a book.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps predictably...

    ... the University of OurCompSciStudentsDreamGoogleDreams finds googling is good for you.

    Of course, when presented with a "no result" they (properly) dug deeper to discover the hidden benefits of "good googling", but did they also dig deeper to find out if different reading material also had merit? Or did they just go straight to "Thesis supported - Internet better than books!"?

    I only ask because just as not all googlers are made the same, nor are readers - and despite the best efforts of Google and their ilk there is still more variety in books than the internet will ever know.

  8. Chris G


    Instead of using hours of scanner time, examining the brains of well people with different stimuli being put in front of them, perhaps these researchers could add to the benefits for mankind by treating sick people who need to have their internals looked at.

    Sometimes researchers treat valuable equipment like toys.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What were they reading?

    I'd have thought that the reading results would vary considerably according to the reading material.

    The Da Vinci Code, for example, washes over your brain with very little effort[*], whilst a closely-argued academic text will be sparking much more conscious thought and evauation more akin to evaluating a Google search, or a history of Margaret Thatcher will stimulate any thinking person to a mind-blizzard of rage and apoplexy.

    Of course the areas of stimulation in the brain would also vary according to what the Google search was for ... but that's a whole different subject!

    [*] Not intended as a criticism BTW, TDVC is an entertaining piece of light hokum.

  10. Chris C

    Not surprising at all

    "[T]he expert data gatherer has learned that to track down the information they need, they must search for it from a variety of mixed quality sources and then interpret what they find to judge its usefulness."

    Blasphemy! Everyone knows that if you want to find anything, you just go to the single authority on every subject, Wikipedia, and accepts its content as Truth. Quality sources and self-interpretation are so 1990.

    On a more serious note, it really is not surprising that searching the web uses more brainpower than reading. Reading is an entertaining activity in which you're fed most of the information. Your imagination just needs to process it a little bit to fill in the missing or superfluous details. A web search, on the other hand, is a complicated and complex process. You first have to figure out what keywords might generate useful results, where/when to use quotes, etc. Then you suffer through hundreds of irrelevant matches (many of which don't even include the words you entered) before you give up and try to think of another set of keywords or a phrase which might give you a more meaningful set of results. Throughout all of this, your brain is busy trying to decide which expletives to use, and in which order they should be used.

  11. Bruno de Florence

    One moment

    Hold on chaps, who said quantity equalled quality? Were Turner, Gainsborough or Van Gogh surfing the net when they were painting?

  12. Louis

    @ Magani

    I would surmise that inexperienced means those with little or no experience, whereas unexperienced specifically means no experience.

    Of course, a quick check shows what I thought - unexperienced is a non word. Someone is trying to play clever buggers and making up almost real sounding words...

    A very bad habit in Journos...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

  14. Erik Aamot

    are they sure ..

    this increased brain activity isn't in areas stimulated by pr0n ?

    experienced users after all ...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Louis - Journalistic Neolography

    I prefer to regard Reg staff less as journos and more as Serialisers of the Zeitgeist. Do you want the unfolding future reported in the musty old words of last week? Of course not. You want to hear your mother-tongue sing bawdy ballads of what-is-to-be - packed full with neologisms, and portmanteaus, and witty turns of phrase, and saucy double entendres. You want your language to bend and sway like a bullrush in the desert wind, not slowly erode like some ancient linguistic Sphinx.

    Roll on, Reg! Enknowledgise our minds with your infotales of applied googlery! Dont let the grammardangling lingotards get you un-up!

  16. P. Lee

    stimulus == doubleplusgood

    as everyone knows, except those with children.

    Am I the only one to think stimulus is not always good? I can play music from the current beat combo du jour very loudly, which I suspect would classify as a strong stimulus. That doesn't mean I'm deriving any benefit from it. Ditto from watching the film "Commando" or playing most computer games.

    What might be more useful is to develop cognitive skills. Unlike TV or FPS games which mostly bypass the cognitive faculties, reading (some types of) books is not a passive activity. Having to follow a complex argument (or plot) and being provided with the opportunity to evaluate the information provided probably provides more useful skills than simply being stimulated.

    Man with glowing eyes has just been tazered and now shares my view of excessive stimuli.

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