Brain Wars

There is a lot of brain research that is being published that shows that the brain rewires itself based on how it is used. This is sometimes referred to as neuroplasticity of the brain. The bad news is that doing some activities can actually rewire your brain in a negative way. The good news is that that same flexibility can allow you to recover by practicing beneficial activities. This could be thought of as a brain war you fight by using your brain in different ways that determine how your brain develops.

In the most recent issue of Wired, Nicholas Carr wrote an article (“The Web Shatters Focus and Rewires the Brain”) about how the Internet and hyperlinked material in general are affecting people’s brains by making them shallower thinkers that skim material and can’t focus or concentrate on concepts as well. The article is an excerpt from a whole book on the effects of the Internet called “The Shallows” that advocates unplugging at some times as one way to counteract these effects.

Another issue, is that people today in many environments face a lot of stimulating distractions and stress about getting many things done. This has lead people to try multitasking which research has shown can be counter-productive.

Since using the Internet regularly is important to a lot of people and has a lot of benefits, methods of having the best of both online and offline worlds are desirable. One option that could be beneficial is to practice the Pomodoro technique which addresses both distractions and multi-tasking by advocating short bursts of activity on one task which you give your full concentration before taking a break.

Original video from Pomodoro Technique on YouTube*.

The Pomodoro technique is very similar to what is advocated in the book, “The Power of Full Engagement” where it is emphasized that managing energy (and attention), not time, is the key to high performance. In ‘The Power of Full Engagement”, 90 minutes is identified as the maximum time that people should try to stay focussed before taking a break. In “Brain Rules”, another book on brain research results, 10 minutes is identified as a point where something needs to be done to retain a person’s attention. The suggested Pomodoro interval of 25 minutes might be a good stretch for focussing on a key task.

Update: 2010-06-11

Steven Pinker in the New York Times provides some necessary context on the history of blaming new media for affecting thinking. There are a lot of benefits to new information sources in addition to new challenges in the assault on our attention.

MindHacks says that neuroplasticity is a dirty word since it is often used without a clear definition of what it really means.

“It’s currently popular to solemnly declare that a particular experience must be taken seriously because it ‘rewires the brain’ despite the fact that everything we experience ‘rewires the brain’.”

* Note:

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