General Health

Take two Doses of Internet to Improve Mental Functions

We’ve all done it. You might think it’s silly and embarrassing but there are entire sites dedicated to it on the internet. We’re talking, of course, of looking at cute baby animals.

Even from the early days of email chain letters of puppies, to today modern lolcats with clever sayings, people can’t get enough of cute animals! While it’s easy to tell how looking at cute animals might lift the spirits, it’s a decidedly bad habit to waste time looking at animal babies while at work, right? Apparently, it’s just the opposite.

A Japanese study from last year experimented with showing workers pictures of cute baby animals, adult animals, or alternatively some nice food. The results: pictures of adult animals and food inspired little change in the workers. But after viewing pictures of cute puppies and kittens, the subjects’ fine motor skills, accuracy, and reactivity increased by over 40%.

On average, Americans spend about 32 hours a month online, about an hour a day. Among the top ten most popular sites: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Amazon.com. One thing you may notice about many of these sites is that they are actually used to gather information.

And it turns out just the simple act of searching the web for information can increase your brain function.

A UCLA study done a few years ago found that middle-aged and older adults who regularly searched the web had increased activity in the areas of the brain that control complex reasoning and decision-making. The findings carry many implications, particularly for older adults whose brains have reduced activity and increased atrophy, which affects cognitive abilities. Prior research has encouraged brain strengthening games such as crossword puzzles, and searching the web could provide a similar workout for the mind.

Alongside information-searching sites, internet users also tend to frequent social networking pages. But surely nothing good can come from posting self-portraits and narcissistic status updates on Facebook? Turns out that people who use social networks are better at learning how to socialize, showing empathy, and engaging in political activities. Contrary to the common fear that using electronics to socialize ultimately leads to isolation and depression, it seems that people who use the internet feel even more connected to their friends that those who don’t.

So the next time someone accuses you of wasting time on the internet, you can tell them you’re just trying to keep your mind fit.

Learn more about unexpected things that keep you healthy.