Could it be that the internet actually - gasp! - makes you smarter?
That's the word from a team of scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, who reported this week that new internet users between age 55 and 78 improved their scores on decision-making and complex reasoning tests after just seven days online. The researchers said they found that surfing the web seemed to stimulate neural activity and possibly enhance cognitive functioning in the mature group of internet users.
Just a week online increased brain activity twofold in the oldest internet users studied, noted the scientists.
"The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults," said Teena D. Moody, a UCLA senior research associate.
The researchers reported that using the internet triggers key centres in the brain that usually atrophy with age and lack of use. However, when people begin using the internet, it positively affects cognitive functions and alters the way the brain encodes new information.
"We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function," said Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the study's author.
The UCLA team studied 24 adults - half of whom used the internet daily, and half with very little online experience.
At the start of the programme, the volunteers did online searches for information while undergoing MRI scans that recorded brain circuitry changes. The they each went home and conducted internet searches for an hour a day for seven days over a two-week period.
After the two week period, the participants underwent a second brain scan. According to the researcher, the volunteers that had little internet experience showed a marked improvement in areas of the brain that control memory and decision making.
The UCLA team now plans to investigate the affects of online search on younger adults.