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Old 10-29-2009, 04:01 AM   #1
danbloom
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People who "read" on computer screens and Kindles have rewired brains?

Some future news report might look like this. Then again, it might not. This story is just food for thought, for now. Read slowly.

From wire agencies and news agencies combined:

People who "read" on computer screens and Kindles have rewired brains: scientists report



(NEW YORK) -- Neuroscientists have discovered that reading on compter screens or Kindle e-reader screens causes changes in white matter, the nerve strands which help different parts of the brain communicate with each other.

University researchers recruited 48 young adults who do most of their reading on computer screens and e-readers -- and hardly ever read text on paper surfaces anymore -- and put them in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to get a cross-section map of their brain.

Half the volunteers then underwent a six-week period where they read online and on a Kindle or a SONY E-reader device, during which they were encouraged to do this for four hours a day.

During the experiment, they never read print newspapers or magazines or books.

They were then scanned again, as were their 24 non-screem-reading counterparts. who also read for four hours a day but on paper books, newspapers and magazines.

Among the screen-reading group, imaging showed important changes in white matter, the bundle of long nerve fibres that carry electrical signals between nerve cells and connect different areas of the brain.

So-called grey matter consists of areas of nerve cells where the brain processes information.

The findings, published online now, are important, for they suggest the brain remains "plastic" -- or mobile and adaptable -- beyond childhood.

"We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood," the study's leader said in a press release.

"In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We've shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate in a different manner when reading on paper or when reading on a screen."

Reading on a screen, compared to reading on paper surfaces, was selected for the experiment because it is a difficult motor skill to master, which means that any cerebral changes would show up more readily.

To read online or on a Kindle requires a new kind of understanding of reading, and the ability to track text using screened pixels.

In fact changes in white matter seen after six weeks occurred precisely in those parts of the brain that are involved in these tasks.

"This doesn't mean everyone should go out and start screen-reading to improve their brains," said the study team leader.

"We chose screen-reading purely as a way to try to show the differences between reading on paper and reading on a scren. But there is a 'use it or lose it' school of thought, in which any way of keeping the brain working is a good thing, such as going for a walk or doing a crossword."

He said clinical applications could eventually follow, such as ways to stimulate the brain and maintain neurological health for both paper readers and screen-readers.

"Knowing that pathways in the brain can be enhanced may be significant in the long run in coming up with new treatments for certain neurological problems, such as lack of critical analysis skills, where these pathways become degraded among longterm screen-readers."
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