The U.C.L.A. researchers studied 24 healthy people between the ages of 55 and 76. Half of the study participants had experience searching the Internet, whereas the other half had no experience. Participants performed Web searches and book-reading tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, which measure the level of cerebral blood flow.
While all participants demonstrated the same brain activity during the book-reading task, the Web-savvy group also registered activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning , the researchers said.
“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior Internet experience,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, director of U.C.L.A.'s Memory and Aging Research Center, in a press release.
“The study results are encouraging that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” Dr. Small said. “Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function. ”
During Web searching, the Web-savvy volunteers showed a twofold increase in brain activation when compared with those who had little Internet experience. The tiniest measurable unit of brain activity registered by the functional M.R.I. is called a voxel. During Internet searching, those with prior Web experience sparked 21,782 voxels, compared with only 8,646 voxels for those with less experience.