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Mar 6, 2009 at 8:03am ET by Gord Hotchkiss
Some time ago, I wrote an article called “Are Our Brains Becoming Googlized?” It became my most read Search Engine Land post ever. Apparently I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the prospect of wholesale rewiring of our brains through exposure to technology.
UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is one of the hotbeds of this brain research, with Drs Gary Small, Susan Bookheimer and Teena Moody doing a number of interesting fMRI studies looking at the impact of technology on our neural networks. One study in particular was fascinating to me, looking at how internet searching activated different parts of the brain. I had a chance to connect with Dr. Moody and ask her more about the study. In today’s column, I’ll share some excerpts from that interview.
The study was conducted with older participants and the goal was to see if the Internet could be used as a way to “exercise” the brain, slowing mental decline. One of the fascinating outcomes was not just which parts of the brain “fired” when searching, but the difference in the level of mental activity between practiced searchers (called the Internet savvy) and newbies (called the Internet naïve). This touched on a number of areas that overlapped with my thoughts and research findings in the past few years. The interview touched on a number of areas, including some of the methodological challenges of fMRI research. For those of you interested, the full transcript is on my blog.
In this column, we’ll explore possible reasons why more of the brain fires as we become more comfortable with searching. Dr. Moody and I explored some possible explanations for this. Danny Sullivan and I have been telling anyone who would listen that Googling is a habit. This study seems to provide more evidence for that view. But more than this, it’s a fascinating glimpse into how our brains evaluate what we see on the search page.