Brains are built to change

In Matt Ritchel’s New York Times recent article, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price,”
a dire picture is painted: We are hooked on technology (e-mail, text
messages, phone calls, social media), and our technophilia is changing
our brains.

But what Ritchel does not make clear is that
everything changes the brain, and that these changes are not
necessarily a bad thing. For an excellent explanation of how this
works, check out a Mind Hacks blog entry from earlier this week, "Neuroplasticity is a Dirty Word.”

This
is not to say that the heavy technology use covered in the article is a
good thing—it sounds like the dynamics of the family featured in the
article are paying a more serious price than the brains in question.
And, as has been covered before, the brain was not built for serious multitasking.

But
I know I will think critically the next time someone says that
something is problematic or of particular interest because it changes
the brain.

–Johanna Goldberg

One response

  1. Our understanding is that neuroplasticity has is being oversold as a feel-good, pop answer to the growing evidence of the permanent, inherited brain functions and structures that make up what we experience as “personality.”
    Of course the brain changes in response to environment and experience. However, what is cause and what is effect needs to be parsed. What drives behavior seems less and less a matter of nurture.
    Genetic determinants of brain states appear far less malleable to our wishes and socio-cultural forces than is comfortable to discuss outside of scientific circles. It feels actually UnAmerican to even entertain such ideas.
    However, the drive to return conscious will-power to the center of the neurological “universe” with reality circling and malleable, just gets in the way of addressing the complex reality of the physiological and medical factors effecting brains, individuals and society.
    We post on some of this at our blog: http://bizbrain.tumblr.com.
    Thank you Dan for good work in this area.
    PS – If you want a nice, and empirical counter-point to the “tech is reshaping our brain” bandwagon see Steven Pinker’s excellent debunking also in the NYT. Sadly it got zero notice or pick-up. Fear sells. Link to his op-ed piece on our blog: http://ow.ly/23sQx

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