Exercise Your Aging Brain With Technology: How Facebook, Smartphones Can Keep The Mind Young
While it may seem that spending hours on Facebook is killing your brain cells rather than making you smarter, new research suggests that being connected with technology as you get older might actually be protecting your cognitive abilities — and keeping you young, in a way.
Different hypotheses exist on whether our technology-driven world is making us smarter or not. Some believe that the constant chaos attributed to fleeting memes, tweets, and blogposts reduces our attention span and ability to delve into deep focus — the kind you need when you’re reading a long book. But the researchers of the new study are looking at technology from a different viewpoint, arguing instead that it forces us to use our minds more than ever before.
“Life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology also by older people, and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs,” Dr. Nadia Steiber, an author of the study, said in the press release. “At the same time, we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising levels of obesity.”
The study, conducted at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysisat in Austria, examined population surveys in Germany in both 2006 and 2012, comparing participants’ brain processing speed, physical fitness, and mental health as they aged. The researchers found that today, test scores among older people over the age of 50 are much better than people eight years younger than them, who were tested six years ago. What this means, the authors argue, is that older people are getting progressively smarter as technology evolves.
“On average, test scores of people aged 50 plus today correspond to test scores from people four to eight years younger and tested six years earlier,” Valeria Bordone, another author of the study, said in the press release. “We show for the first time that although compositional changes of the older population in terms of education partly explain the Flynn effect, the increasing use of modern technology such as computers and mobile phones in the first decade of the 2000s also contributes considerably to its explanation.”
The Flynn effect is the gradual improvement of both crystallized and fluid intelligence over the years — in short, people’s IQs have been getting higher the more modern our society is. Some underlying reasons might include better nutrition, modern medicine, improved education, and perhaps most recently, the shift from a manufacturing age to one of information.
But can we contribute the Flynn effect to social media, smartphones, and iPads? The researchers will need to further investigate this link to come to stronger conclusions, but we can at least rest assured that technology isn’t necessarily doing us any harm, as many naysayers have warned. One recent editorial published in BMJ and written by researchers at the University College London and the University of Oxford argued that social media, instead of severing IRL (in real life) relationships like many have feared, “has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others.”
If you want to protect your cognitive function, however, sitting on your computer all day simply isn’t going to do the trick. In fact, complementing brain exercises with physical activity and a healthy diet will work wonders for your brain health — especially if you start earlier in life. Moderation is key — being plugged into the Internet’s stimulating world can keep you sharp, but disconnecting and reading a good book can also exercise the deeper concentration of your mind.
Source: Bordone V, Scherbov S, Steiber N. Smarter every day: The deceleration of population ageing in terms of cognition. Intelligence. 2015.