Using smart phones and other digital technologies is changing our brains, says a study by Microsoft Corp.
Photo Credit: CBC

Digital media changing our brains, attention spans

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The average human attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2000, to only eight seconds in 2013, according to research from Microsoft Corp. It notes, that is one second shorter than a goldfish’s attention span. And much of the change has to do with our use digital media.

Not ‘the undoing of our cognitive abilities’

The shorter attention span is not something that alarms Western University brain researcher J. Bruce Morton. “I think that it just means that we’re allocating our attention to things in our environment differently than we were a few years ago. I don’t think it means that we’re witnessing the undoing of our cognitive abilities.”

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Our attention spans may be shorter but were are packing a lot into those eight seconds, says brain researcher. © CBC

The Microsoft study also suggests our use of digital technologies is changing our brains. But Morton says a changing brain is nothing new.

“The brain is massively dynamic. It’s constantly changing in view of all sorts of different kinds of experiences. So while it’s true that perhaps our brain is changing as we interact with technology, it changes with just about anything that crosses our plate during the day.”

Kids need to learn less compelling skills

That said, Morton says technology is so well-suited to our brains that it is easy to learn to use and highly seductive. He says parents need to make sure children still acquire other skills that are much more difficult to master such as reading, writing, playing a musical instrument or learning a sport.

‘Welcome to the modern age’

The takeaway message from the Microsoft in Morton’s view is: “Welcome to the modern age where we’re really putting our brain to the test. We’re really getting to work in a way that it’s capable of working.

“That means we might be on task for eight seconds at a time, but those eight seconds are action-packed and we’re collecting lots of information that’s relevant, I think, to what we’re doing from moment to moment in the day.”

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Posted in Lifestyle, Science and Technology, Society

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