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Why your brain doesn’t work right

Why your brain doesn’t work right

Scientists have shown that our modern lifestyle – and the continuous use of digital devices in particular – could be depriving our brains of much needed downtime.

August 26, 2010 1:30 by

Kipp ticks most of the boxes of the modern age. Smartphones: Yes. Ipods: Yes. Internet: Yes. Television: Yes. Social networking: Yes. You name it we’re doing it. But according to scientists, keeping busy all the time could be bad for us.

The New York Times reports this week that when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas. The University of California has shown that when rats have a new experience, like exploring a new area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

Meanwhile at the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

So when you’re filling time with your mobile or BlackBerry, you may be staving off boredom or helping time pass but you’re really taxing your brain. “People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

Kipp likes this research, and almost instinctively we know it’s right. Creativity, memory and even sanity are all delicate things, and the constant need to fill life with diversions, entertainment, and noise can’t be good for any of them. Of all the things available to us now in life, it could be that “nothing” is the most valuable of all.

What do you think? Do you fill your spare time with games on your phone, or checking email? Do you always have the TV or radio on at home? Would you benefit from switching it all off?

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