Technology boosts brain power

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Using a tablet

I read an article in The Telegraph that reveals something truly astonishing: scientists have concluded that the demands of learning how to send an email, or create a Word document, as well as deal with social media and the Internet is making older minds younger. I’m surprised at this because the Internet has also brought us ‘information overload’ and I must admit that some days my brain feels quite frazzled when I open my inbox and see the number of emails awaiting me.

But, instead of all this grappling with learning how to Tweet and how to update a status, plus very importantly grasp the use of ’emojis,’ those darling little images that tell everyone how you’re feeling. I sometimes have a rush of what I can only call ’emoji jealousy,’ when I see particularly fantastic use of emoticons. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it shows superior EQ, which is a measure of ’emotional intelligence,’ but it does exude a certain flair for using social media.

Better test scores by over 50s

So, back to the scientific research: the scientists noticed that in a series of cognitive function tests, people over 50 are showing improved test results and the researchers concluded that this improvement could be attributed to our brains being sharpened by the need to deal with the demands of modern technology. As The Telegraph report points out: “Experts were previously worried that technology was causing people to stop thinking.” Now, it seems the converse is true and the mental skills needed to operate increasingly complex gadgets are making people smarter.

Of course, we must also take into account the ‘Flynn Effect,’ which is the name given to the trend showing that each new generation is smarter than the preceding one. Part of this, certainly over the last 100 years, can be attributed to improved levels of education, but researchers don’t believe that schooling is the only factor involved.


Woman using an ipad in the garden

A study of cognitive abilities

The researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria who conducted this study looked at surveys of Germans in 2006 and 2012 that measured brain processing speed, physical fitness and mental health.

Experts believe that studying cognitive function – brain processing speed – is a valuable way of assessing how different population groups age more successfully than others. When asked if they could explain why the brains of people in their 50s now appeared to be ageing more slowly and maintaining the brain function of a person a decade younger, Dr Nadia Steiber of IIASA said she thought the results could be explained by ‘changing lifestyles.’

She went on to remark that life has become more cognitively demanding, with older people using information technology and people working for longer in intellectually demanding jobs. She did also point out that we’re less physically active and obesity is increasing.

How technology sharpens your brain functions

If you’re wondering how computer, iPad/tablet and smart phone use is giving your brain more brawn, let me share with you the gymnastic feats your mind is vaulting through as you do a spot of online shopping, download a book, read the newspaper, write to friends and Skype family overseas.

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by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.