Are Computers Causing Brain Damage?

Dr. Archibald Hart is Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus, Department of Clinical Psychology, at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a licensed psychologist and board certified diplomate fellow in psychopharmacology. And he says our dependence on computer technology is rewiring our brains and dumbing us down.

And, lest you think Dr. Hart is a late-adopting technophobe, rest assured that is not the case. He joined the computer revolution early on and is an accomplished computer programmer.

“We are on the brink of disaster,” says Dr. Hart, “and neuroscientists worldwide are shouting out the warning.” While the claims may seem sensational, the ramifications are serious enough that anyone concerned about computers and health should listen up and consider the facts.

Says the doctor, “We are slowly losing our capacity to contemplate and meditate … [our brains] are being programmed for speed, not content.”

You may be losing your mind

So, maybe the struggles I have been experiencing lately when I try to get myself to slow down and smell the roses isn’t all simply a problem of self-discipline. Dr. Hart’s warning points to the possibility of “severe psychological to severe biological health issues.”

Relating his findings to the classroom, the professor says he has had to “dumb down” a test he uses for a course in psychopharmacology. According to the neuroscientists, he says, we are losing 10-20% of our IQ ability.

The brain is designed for focus and sequential tasking—not for multi-tasking. And why have we become champions of switching from task to task? We want to avoid boredom. And why do we want to avoid boredom? Because technology has left us addicted to in-your-face entertainment.

We may be quickly losing the ability to think and draw conclusions. Everything is presented to us on a digital platter. We don’t search for information, but for answers. We don’t have to seek solutions anymore. We don’t even have to know how to spell or calculate.

What does the research say about computers and health?

A Carnegie Mellon study determined “The Internet has the potential to make us socially isolated, lonely and depressed.” A 2011 study, published in the Plos One journal, indicated a lessened ability to process information and “lower gray matter density” (among other dour signs) for young people who are suffering from a newly coined disorder: Internet addiction.

Have you ever been speaking with someone who is constantly watching their phone for new messages or even texting during your conversation? That’s not only bad manners, says Dr. Hart, it is an addiction.

Western Washington University researchers tested a theory on “inattentional blindness” resulting from cell phone distraction.  To do so, one of the students dressed as a clown and rode a unicycle around the university square for an hour. As he pedaled, other students stopped those who had passed by the clown to ask whether they had seen anything unusual. Only 8% of those who were talking on a cellphone as they walked could spontaneously recall seeing the clown. Yet 71% of those who were walking and talking with a friend remembered him.

And the neuroscientists?

Do neuroscientists confirm Dr. Hart’s suspicions? It appears that many do. A German neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Manfred Spitzer, says computers have a negative effect on learning and should be banned from the classroom. Oxford University neuroscientist, Baroness Greenfield, says computers decrease the attention span and can inflict permanent brain damage on young users. And Japanese neuroscientist, Ryuta Kawashima, says hours of game playing can disrupt the formation of the frontal lobe of the brain—affecting self-control, memory, emotions and learning.

Should We Act Immediately to Curtail Computer Addiction?

It’s a tough call right now. The science is still young and the research is not conclusive. Critics note the preponderance of sensational books on the subject and suggest there is a profit motive behind those who are badmouthing the digital revolution. Others say we should move quickly to protect ourselves—and especially our children—while there is yet time.

Each must make the call himself or herself, but one thing is for sure: you can’t react to what you don’t know. And now that you’ve heard the warning, the question is this: Can you pull yourself away from the computer long enough to do something about it? Or are you already so embedded in the digital world that a calculated withdrawal is seemingly impossible?

The answer may be crucial for you—and for those you love.

Photo by Paul Townsend from Bristol, UK [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Technological advancements over the past century have been amazing. Let’s not get so caught up in the wonder of it all, though, that we forget to monitor the impact on health. Brought to you by author Casey Windsong and the Melaleuca Journal.