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Thursday, October 20, 2011

How the Internet is changing student brains

There has been a great deal of speculation of the years about how the Internet is effecting the next generation of students: does it shorten their attention spans? Do they expect different lesson plans?

While technlogy in the classroom offers new formats for education, not all students are more tech-savvy than their older counterparts, nor do they always prefer to use technology (this is a stereotype of their generation that teachers should avoid).

The implications of technology may extend past new technique or preference, however. Recent studies presented by the BBC found a correlation between a persons' Facebook friends count and the size of the "social", "memory", and "emotional" areas of their brain.

The social impacts of social media may not be suprising.
Dr. Ryota Kanai of University College, London, states, "We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have - both 'real' and 'virtual'."

The "emotional" part of the brain, called the amygdala, is the focus of emotional activity in the brain. While the debate still rages as to its ability to manage "basic" versus "social" emotions, it is still studied as the hub of emotional activity in the brain. The size of the amygdala was shown to be linked to the size and complexity of the persons' real world social networks. This leads to further questions about emotional intelligence (can it be taught? can it be measured? can you increase your emotional intelligence?).

The fact that the internet effects memory may be key in student research. Recently, scientists have found that IQ can change in teenage years, but have not identified the "how" or "why". As social media impact memory, and memory impacts IQ, the need for more long-term internet study is clear; "We cannot escape the ubiquity of the internet and its impact on our lives, yet we understand little of its impact on the brain, which we know is plastic and can change over time," says Dr. Williams, head of Neuroscience at Welcome Trust.

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