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Internet: Harmful to your cognitive health

If you want your child to be a good student, minimize his computer time—according to an article written by Cindy Lee Russell, MD, the Vice President of Community Health , Santa Clara County Medical Association. According to her article “Shallow Minds: How the Internet and Wi-Fi in schools can Affect Learning,” heavy Internet use leads to higher levels of distractibility and poorer control over working memory.

The ability to focus on one learning task, to discriminate between important and unimportant details , and to remember what one has learned are central to learning, yet it is exactly these abilities that computer use undermines. Readers of Internet content are in fact skimming the Net for nuggets of information before clicking to the next page. They are also frequently multi-tasking, skipping back in forth between the academic subject, their email, the news, and their Facebook page. In general, they are not doing the kind of in-depth critical reading that is crucial to genuine mastery of a topic.

In order for learning to occur, a portion of the brain known as the hippocampus must transfer information learned from short-term to long-term memory. The hippocampus has only a limited ability to process information. If, as is the case with many Internet users, the person is multi-tasking, he is exposing himself to more information than his brain can handle, creating an information logjam. Thus, Internet use can actually hamper learning.

Worse, it is not only the cognitive effects of Internet usage that are a cause for concern. Another, perhaps greater, worry is the possibility that the technology itself --electromagnetic fields or EMFs--may impair learning by damaging the hippocampus. Several studies published in peer-reviewed journals indicate that exposure to microwave radiation during the prenatal period alters the hippocampus on a cellular level. Behavioral studies on animals show impaired learning and memory in those exposed to wireless radiation. Other animal studies show ADHD-like behavior in exposed animals. A study of Chinese teenagers who were heavy Internet users showed that, compared to light Internet users, their brains had literally atrophied: they had less gray matter and reductions in white matter, which transmits signals to gray matter. While this study does not conclusively prove that the Internet caused the brain shrinkage—maybe people with neurological abnormalities are more likely to become Internet addicts—the results are sobering and should lead prudent parents to limit exposure to both the Internet and wireless technology like routers, cell phones, and wireless smoke detectors and security systems.

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