Technology helps, but brings challenges, too


The world we live in has become so technology-driven that it often gives older adults a sickening feeling of being out of place.

But why do old people find it hard to keep up? In older adults, the prefrontal cortex, which is the front part of the brain associated with attention, is not engaged well as in younger adults. Therefore, there is a decline in attention skills. As you get older, it becomes increasingly hard for you to manage distractions and multitask. And, all these get in the way of learning.

We have done numerous studies on attention. One of our studies looked at how distraction decreases memory performance and other cognitive functions. Another study published in Nature in 2013 was on how to use custom-built video games to improve attention abilities. The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World is based on studies from our own laboratory as well as work done by other researchers. The book gives you insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain, enabling you to make better decisions on how to interact with your gadgets.

Has technology made us a breed of mad multitaskers, doing more harm than good? Well, that is hard to say. Technology is beneficial for mankind, but we have real challenges now that are important to think about.

Gazzaley is professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and executive director of Neuroscape at the University of California, San Francisco, and is coauthor of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.


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