ArticlePDF AvailableLiterature Review

Abstract and Figures

The rapid uptake of the internet has provided a new platform for people to engage with almost all aspects of life. As such, it is currently crucial to investigate the relationship between the internet and cognition across contexts and the underlying neurobiological mechanisms driving this. We describe the current understanding of this relationship across the literature and outline the state of knowledge surrounding the potential neurobiological drivers. Through focusing on two key areas of the nascent but growing literature, first the individual- and population-level implications for attention processes and second the neurobiological drivers underpinning internet usage and memory, we describe the implications of the internet for cognition, assess the potential mechanisms linking brain structure to cognition, and elucidate how these influence behaviour. Finally, we identify areas that now require investigation, including (i) the importance of the variation in individual levels of internet usage, (ii) potential individual behavioural implications and emerging population-level effects, and the (iii) interplay between age and the internet–brain relationships across the stages of development.
Content may be subject to copyright.
International Journal of
Environmental Research
and Public Health
Exploring the Impact of Internet Use on Memory
and Attention Processes
Josh A. Firth 1,2 , John Torous 3and Joseph Firth 4,5 ,*
1Department of Zoology, Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 8QJ, UK;
2Merton College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 8QJ, UK
3Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School,
Boston, MA 02215, USA;
4Division of Psychology and Mental Health, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
5NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia
Received: 5 November 2020; Accepted: 16 December 2020; Published: 17 December 2020
The rapid uptake of the internet has provided a new platform for people to engage with
almost all aspects of life. As such, it is currently crucial to investigate the relationship between
the internet and cognition across contexts and the underlying neurobiological mechanisms driving this.
We describe the current understanding of this relationship across the literature and outline the state
of knowledge surrounding the potential neurobiological drivers. Through focusing on two key areas
of the nascent but growing literature, first the individual- and population-level implications for
attention processes and second the neurobiological drivers underpinning internet usage and memory,
we describe the implications of the internet for cognition, assess the potential mechanisms linking
brain structure to cognition, and elucidate how these influence behaviour. Finally, we identify areas
that now require investigation, including (i) the importance of the variation in individual levels of
internet usage, (ii) potential individual behavioural implications and emerging population-level
eects, and the (iii) interplay between age and the internet–brain relationships across the stages
of development.
cognitive processes; digital health; digital technology; mHealth; neuroscience; social media
1. Understanding Internet–Brain Relations
In recent years, the internet has become an integral aspect of everyday life for most adults
and adolescents [
], producing a global shift in how people search for and share information, connect
with one another, obtain social recognition and rewards, and acknowledge social status. This has
become particularly pronounced with the rise of smartphone technologies, which oer constant internet
access and encourage individuals to remain always connected to the online world.
Along with the vast range of possibilities of harnessing the internet for improving the self
and society, the potential risks of extensive internet usage are also becoming evident [
]. Specifically,
various lines of research have now begun to examine if, and how, this widespread and extensive
internet usage may adversely impact our cognitive processes and how changes in brain functioning
may underpin these eects [
]. However, the majority of studies to date have only investigated
specific online activities in isolation, making it dicult to draw overall conclusions. Nevertheless,
some attempts have recently been made to synthesize the broad literature surrounding this area [
and a framework of primary areas of cognitive functions (in relation to the internet) has been established
as including (i) social cognition, (ii) attentional processes, and (iii) memory storage/retrieval.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481; doi:10.3390/ijerph17249481
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 2 of 12
While modern synthesis and reviews have summarised the previously available evidence for
the impact of the internet on cognition [
], further examination is still required to update and draw
further attention to more recent, emerging aspects of how internet usage can impact cognitive processes.
Indeed, while the relationship between the internet and social cognition is without a doubt an important
area (see Box 1), the processes of attention and memory are currently experiencing rapid growth in
terms of developing our understanding of how cognition is aected by internet usage. Such growth is
particularly driven through research into these two cognitive processes providing new insights into
the specific implications of internet-related cognitive changes at the individual and population level
and the neurobiological mechanisms that underpin these apparent relationships.
Box 1. Social cognition.
Although not the primary focus of this review, the interplay between the internet and social cognition is
referred to across various contexts in this synthesis, as this area of research is a particularly rapidly developing
topic across fields and is allowing various powerful empirical studies due to the vast number of data available
within this area, particularly from harnessing social media. The current framework characterizes the overlap
between online social networks and real-world sociality as a “new playing field for the same game” [
]. Although
social-networking platforms on the internet clearly provide unparalleled potential for social interactions,
a substantial body of literature demonstrates that core socio-cognitive processes and social network structures
integral to “real-world sociality” are reflected in online social networks [
]. The strong correlations between
neural processes implicated in both online and oine social interactions further illustrate how “artificial” aspects
of social media platforms (e.g., the quantitative metrics of popularity, such as likes of posted content and explicit
friendship requests/acceptance) can have “real-world” social consequences [
]. For instance, compelling
evidence has recently demonstrated that being subjected to online rejection evokes the same neural responses as
those seen in “real-world’ rejection [
] Thus, by presenting an artificial environment that so closely interacts
with regular sociality, online social networks have the potential to interfere with a broad range of cognitive
processes involved in social comparisons, self-evaluations, and even mental health [
]. Attempts to now
understand how the relationship between internet usage and social cognition may carry-over into aecting other
cognitive processes (such as attention and memory as referred to across this review) will be of great use for
increasing knowledge on the cross-contextual implications of the internet.
First, for attention, the perpetual flow of information provided by the internet may potentially
interfere with sustained concentration, by prompting people towards “media multi-tasking” between
dierent types of incoming sources of information [
]. Indeed, the available data support the hypothesis
that engaging in excessive media multi-tasking reduces performance in sustained concentration
tests [
]. Additionally, recent experimental studies have found that even brief interaction with
hyperlinked websites can produce notable immediate reductions in concentration capacities; deficits
that can persist for a short duration even after ceasing internet usage [23].
Secondly, memory is another cognitive process that may be impacted by the internet, due to
the persistent access to factual information aorded by ubiquitous internet access. The internet may act
as a “superstimulus for transactive memory” [
] by tilting us towards an over-reliance on the online
world as an endless, and always available, source of external memory storage. Supporting this,
a number of empirical studies have found that using the internet for information-gathering tasks does
accelerate the process but appears to fail in recruiting certain patterns of brain activation important for
long-term storage of the retrieved information [25,26].
In this paper, we aim to further examine the mechanisms through which internet usage may
influence human cognition, particularly with regards to focusing on the recent findings around
the impact of internet usage on attention and memory, due to the rapid and constant growth of research
in these two areas. To do this, we build on the evidence presented in previous reviews [
] to firstly
utilise the evidence and literature surrounding the internet aecting attentional capacities, primarily
through describing how extensive internet usage and the mass of information aorded from this may
predispose us towards media-multitasking and divided attention, at the level of both the individual
and the population/society. Secondly, we use the recent findings from the emerging literature on
memory processes to examine the neurobiological mechanisms that may underlie internet-induced
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 3 of 12
alterations in memory, with particular emphasis on the important indication that these relationships
may vary across dierent age groups. Third and finally, we highlight the promising topics within these
areas and how further investigation of these will benefit the wider field. Reviewing all evidence, we
oer recommendations for how the potentially adverse eects of internet usage could be ameliorated
or avoided using emerging evidence.
2. The Impact of Internet Use on Attention
The relationship between the internet and attention processes is experiencing relatively rapid
development; as such, it is particularly important that regular synthetic updates are considered.
Although there is clearly a broad array of processes through which the internet could impact core
cognitive processes (i.e., as outlined above), its influence on attention has recently provided an especially
rich knowledge base through which the digitalised world may have cognition-related implications
for the individual and also potential population-level eects on attention changes. Interestingly,
at both of these levels (i.e., individual and population), there is an emerging, but largely independent,
demonstration that the actual extent of internet usage (rather than just access to it) is an important factor
for shaping cognition. In this context, we discuss the influence of internet usage for cognitive processes
in the individual and then consider how this also relates to population-level implications. In doing so,
we hope to emphasise that, while it may be particularly challenging to assess how individual-level
implications of internet usage may scale directly to shape societal level outcomes, it is becoming
apparent that attention processes may provide an in-road into investigating these phenomena.
2.1. Individual-Level Implications
While it is straightforward to conceptualise “internet usage” as a dichotomous variable or separate
individuals into users vs. non-users, the intricacies of internet usage dier hugely between individuals.
First, the most strikingly variable that would be expected to moderate the eects of internet usage on
the brain would be the quantity of use. Indeed, a large sum of research has investigated the correlates
of the highest levels of internet usage and dependence, specifically in those with “internet use
disorders” (IUDs). Indeed, a growing amount of research is beginning to advance the understanding
of the processes underpinning IUDs, the risk factors, and the potential treatments (as synthesised in
Figure 1), and, although not the primary topic of this review, this area now provides a specifically
useful and applied avenue for elucidating the consequences of the quantity of internet usage on
individual-level attention. For instance, a 2017 review [
] identified structural changes or deficits in
brain regions associated with attentional control, reward processing and motivation in those with IUDs
compared to healthy controls. IUD-related deficits in these brain regions associated with cognitive
control also appear to be reflected, or even manifest, in the heightened rates of related behavioural
deficits associated with IUD. It would be particularly interesting to examine how quantity interacts
with quality/type of usage (e.g., social media usage vs. online gambling usage) and its impact on IUD.
With regards to eects on attention/concentration, a vast sum of research has shown strong links
between excessive usage of the internet and IUDs (i.e., Figure 1), and this is now beginning to be linked
to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders. Most notably, a 2017 systematic review examined the link
between IUDs and ADHD across 15 independent studies (2 cohort studies and 13 cross-sectional
studies) [
] and found that individuals with IUDs had over a 3 times higher likelihood of ADHD than
healthy controls. Even after adjusting for potentially confounding factors, the adjusted odds ratio for
ADHD in IUD individuals remained clinically and statistically significant (OR =2.51, 95% C.I. =2.1 to
3.0). In further examinations of the data, the meta-analysis also found that IUDs are also associated
with more severe symptoms of ADHD, separately from the diagnosis of ADHD as a clinical condition.
For example, “inattention” scores were much higher in those with IUDs compared to control samples
(standardised mean dierence of 0.84, 95% C.I. =0.65–1.02). Subsequently to the 2017 review, a more
recent cross-sectional study confirmed the association between ADHD and IUDs in a sample of 1000
university students and professional online gamers [30].
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 4 of 12
Figure 1.
Synthesis of potential underpinning processes, risk factors, and treatments of internet
usage disorders, along with contemporary challenges faced by current research within this area.
The Targeted Treatments “CBT” box also includes internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy
(termed iCBT) [28].
Despite this strong observational link, the question of course remains whether excessive use
of the internet is a causal factor for ADHD, or whether adolescents with probable ADHD are more
susceptible to excessive internet usage. Future research, particularly research using methods that
allow investigation of the causality and direction of relationships, will provide much-needed insights
into the potential adverse impacts of the extensive internet usage on attentional disorders in young
people [
]. However, due to the saturation of the internet across the globe, it is dicult to
examine the causal relations between extensive internet usage. Nonetheless, a recent study by
Loh et al. [
] capitalised upon a rare sample of 35 young adults in India with minimal prior contact
with Internet-related technologies to experimentally investigate the impact of one month of unlimited
Internet access on neurocognition. Results showed that introducing high levels of internet usage to
this previously naïve sample increased media-multitasking behaviours in just one month, significantly
more than a comparison group of internet-familiar young adults measured over the same timeframe.
Therefore, the individual-level attention eects of the internet are clearly providing a body of evidence
showing that consideration of the quantity of usage is vital for understanding these relationships as
well as having applied implications in terms of psychological syndromes (here ADHD). Continued
research within this area, as well as further studies examining the context and quality of usage, is now
necessary to advance general understanding of these concepts.
2.2. Emerging Population-Level Eects
Modifications to individual-level behaviour (often through cognitive changes) can ultimately
carry over to shape the emergent population-level processes that arise as a product of the actions of
the individuals within the society. As such, it is perhaps intuitive (but nevertheless of much importance)
that the possible eects of the internet on divided attention appear to extend beyond considering
individuals that are vulnerable to developing specific attentional disorders and appear to also apply
on a population scale. However, combining a fine-scale assessment of internet-related cognitive
changes at the individual-level with the large-scale examination of the consequences of such changes
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 5 of 12
for the population is particularly challenging, which means that, currently, such “holistic” empirical
studies are limited. Nevertheless, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for this is provided
by a recent study examining the eects of the internet on “collective attention span”. referring to
the amount of attention a popular topic receives on a population level [
]. Across various types of
online content, the study found strong evidence that, over time, shorter intervals of collective attention
are given to individual topics. For instance, the study first examined 24 h usage of the top 50 most-used
Twitter hashtags across the world (sampled across 43 billion tweets), and how this changed over time.
Results showed that whereas a highly popular hashtag stayed within the top 50 for 17.5 h in 2013,
this gradually decreased over time, with top 50 hashtags maintaining their position for only 11.9 h by
2016. These patterns persisted across a range of online and oine topics of public interest and across
dierent timeframes [34].
On a further note, this study [
] provides a clear demonstration that the internet is not only
providing pathways for modifying population-level cognition but also enables the almost-real-time
quantification of such phenomena. Therefore, although it is often problematic to infer causative
eects from population-level observations, such large-scale and detailed data enables inferences
of population-level eects that would otherwise be dicult to quantitively identify. Indeed, this
study also employs a simple mathematical model to illustrate a basic mechanistic process of how
increased production and subsequent consumption of information cause population-level attention
span (and topic turnover rates) to shorten. Importantly, this mechanistic model explains the observed
data well, suggesting that the ever-faster flows of collective attention were primarily driven by
the increasing flow of information across the internet (i.e., total rates of internet-based informational
content production and consumption) and that the abundance of information available today is indeed
shortening the attention spans of the population. While further studies to determine the population-level
eects of internet usage are needed, a fully detailed account of how these population-level consequences
arise also requires further understanding of individual-level eects. Thus, empirical studies that
monitor individual cognitive changes in response to individuals’ internet usage, while simultaneously
measuring population-level outcomes, will provide new insights into how the eects of sustained
internet usage on an individual level can manifest in changes in human cognition on a population-scale.
3. Neurobiological Underpinnings of Internet–Brain Relations
An emerging body of cross-sectional research indicates that certain aspects of internet usage
and online behaviours may be responsible for changes in brain structure and neural functioning,
independent of “oine” versions of such behaviours. For instance, in the context of social cognition
(Box 1), neuroimaging studies have shown that individuals’ number of Facebook social connections
(their “Facebook friends”) can predict the grey matter volume of particular brain regions (such as
in the right entorhinal cortex [
]), while their real-world social networks (real-world friends)
holds little relationship with grey matter volume in these regions. Similarly, large amounts of
internet usage [
] and particularly media-multitasking [
] are correlated with reduced grey matter
volume in the anterior cingulate cortex and other prefrontal regions associated with sustaining
concentration/ignoring distractor stimuli [
]. However, these cross-sectional studies fail to
determine if these neurophysiological alterations are a cause or consequence of dierent types of
internet usage and do not allow causal inferences. Indeed, it is currently almost impossible to establish
the long-term neural changes induced by engaging with the internet on a regular and sustained basis
due to the relatively recent adoption of the internet as the prime source of information consumption in
our society. Nonetheless, despite these challenges, memory processes are appearing to be proving
to be a particularly fruitful line of research, due to the vast amounts of knowledge surrounding
the fundamental neurological underpinnings of memory, as well as the ability to empirically test this
process within individuals [25].
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 6 of 12
3.1. Internet Use and Memory Processes
Given the sheer amount of time the average individual spends engaging in online activities (of both
communicative and non-communicative nature), various insights into neurobiological pathways
through which online activities aect cognition can be gained from investigating the shorter-term
eects of internet usage on the brain [
]. Existing neuroimaging studies examining the acute
or short-term eects of internet-based information processing/consumption currently report mixed
results. On one hand, an emergent body of literature indicates that the unprecedented potential for
finding additional (or alternative) information at the push of a button could interfere with the retention
of the information sought. To examine the neurobiological mechanisms through which this may
occur, experimental studies have compared internet searching to encyclopedia-based information
retrieval. These studies have found that internet searching can lead to reduced activation in brain
regions associated with working memory [
] and alterations in functional connectivity of memory
retrieval circuits [
]. Furthermore, large quantities of internet use are associated with a reduced
volume of the brain regions associated with cognitive control, hypothetically due to the internet
usage encouraging high levels of flicking between information sources (i.e., media multitasking)
at the expense of brain circuitry used in sustained concentration [35,36].
Separately to media multitasking, another pathway through which online information sources
may interfere with regular memory processes is linked to the constant accessibility of this external
mass of information, which could potentially train a reliance towards informational retrieval over
informational retention [
]. Some studies have recently reported that internet search training may
increase behavioural impulses towards internet use by impacting upon brain regions involved in
reward, attention, and inhibitory control [43].
Furthermore, since the internet essentially acts as an external or transactive memory system, this
allows for “cognitive o-loading” of certain cognitively demanding tasks, such as semantic memory
retrieval [
]. This, in turn, may free up cognitive resources, which can instead then be reallocated
towards the use and development of higher-level cognitive abilities [
]. In line with this, internet
search training has recently been shown to facilitate neural connectivity by increasing white matter
integrity [46].
3.2. Age Interactions in Internet–Brain Relations
Alongside examining the biological mechanisms that potentially govern the eect of the internet on
the brain, there is an increasing indication that consideration must be given to how the eects of internet
usage may dier across age groups. For instance, cross-sectional studies in older adults have shown
that those who engage in more internet/email activity have greater performance in memory recall [
This positive eect is possibly due to the cognitive stimulation from the wealth of information provided
by internet usage, facilitating the retention of cognitive capacities in ageing. As such, research reporting
that the reward, attention, and inhibitory control regions of the brain are negatively influenced by
internet search training (which holds consequences of internet-usage behavioural impulses) may not
be entirely generalizable, as these studies did not involve older individuals [
]. Neuroimaging studies
conducted in older adults who use the internet regularly show that internet-based information retrieval
uses greater amounts of neural circuitry than text-based information, specifically in regions implicated
in multiple higher-level cognitive functions, including decision making and complex reasoning [
However, there is a paucity of observational or experimental studies examining how long-term
internet use could produce sustained changes in brain development, connectivity, and structure,
and how this may underlie internet-induced alternations in typical cognitive processes. Of note,
there is a particular dearth of research in children and adolescents, whose younger brains may be
more responsive to the potential neuroplastic (i.e., flexible neurological dynamics) changes associated
with increased internet use. To our knowledge, only one existing prospective study has examined
the associations between internet usage and brain development in youth. Specifically, the study
compared brain development over a three-year time period in children with frequent internet use vs.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 7 of 12
children with low/no internet use [
]. The results suggest impeded development of verbal intelligence
in the young people who engaged in the highest levels of internet use over the three years. Furthermore,
the neuroimaging aspect of the study indicated a feasible neurobiological mechanism through which
this may occur, as higher frequency of internet use was linked to a reduction in the ageing-related
increases in both gray and white matter volume, brain regions which are linked with the development
of executive functions, language, and attentional control [49].
4. “What Now?” Research Priorities for Future Investigations
The latest synthesis (Parts 2 and 3 above) of the current research examining how the internet
may influence cognitive processes (particularly attention and memory) also provides insight into
the topics that currently hold unrecognized potential for furthering our understanding of how cognitive
processes are shaped by internet usage. Here, we outline how prioritizing further work in the areas
of establishing the long-term implications for cognitive processes, and understanding the context of
internet use. We conclude by looking beyond the primary risks of internet usage for cognition towards
discussing the positive implications the internet can hold for cognitive functioning.
4.1. Examining Long-Term Impacts of Internet Use
Currently, the findings of studies examining the acute eects of internet usage are mixed, perhaps
due to the wide variety of dierent online behaviours studied to date. Within the existing literature, there
is increasing evidence to indicate that using the internet extensively for factual information retrieval
and media-multitasking may impact adversely on brain regions associated with memory (i.e., through
long-term storage) and attention (i.e., through sustained concentration). However, the long-term eects
of the internet on brain structure, and how this underpins downstream eects on cognitive capacities,
remain unknown. In particular, future studies aiming to elucidate the neurobiological pathways
through which internet usage impacts cognition, including memory and attention, must also consider
the potential interaction of these eects with age. Specifically, it should be considered that whereas
internet usage may facilitate cognitive stimulation in older people, it could also adversely impact
the development of higher-level cognitive capacities in youth. Alongside this, further consideration
must be aorded to how various types of internet usage (i.e., dierent online behaviours and styles of
using the internet) may ultimately determine the outcomes of internet usage for individuals.
4.2. Putting Cognitive Eects of Internet Use in Context
While much research is being pursued in understanding how the quantity of internet usage may
influence cognitive processes, a less-frequently addressed question is, “what types of internet usage
aect cognition, and in what ways?”
As outlined above, the two primary contexts of internet usage are information consumption
and social communication/interactions. Importantly, dierentiating these two outlets may be crucial for
furthering our understanding, particularly as social usage of the internet is known to have a range of
distinct eects. For instance, a major draw to the internet for some is to engage in virtual communities
in order to exchange information, social support, and friendship [
]. A further draw is the ability to be
able to express thoughts and feelings to large audiences via these communities, social networks, online
groups, or bulletin board systems. As such, the relevance, and the strength, of the relationship between
online social activity and that of the real world (see Box 1), along with the potential consequences of
this, is widely recognized as a topic of great interest [51,52]. There is also some indication that online
social interaction influences human cognition in ways analogous to real-world socialization (e.g., see
Box 1) and that brain regions linked to social cognition and associative memory are also correlated
with online social network size [
]. Indeed, memory capacity may act as a key determinant of online
social networks due to the large number of potential associates an individual may hold [
]. Further,
cross-sectional studies have shown excessive social media use to be associated with decreased grey
matter volume in regions related to emotional regulation and social cognition, including the bilateral
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 8 of 12
amygdala and right ventral striatu [
]. High daily Facebook use has also been linked with reduced
nucleus accumbens grey matter volume, a structure associated with motivation, reward, learning,
and addiction [54].
Clearly, commercial online social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat
have a remarkable capacity to engage users [
], and the exceptional aspects of internet-based
social networks bring into question whether the distinctive properties of the online world will hold
negative or positive ramifications for users’ well-being. As it stands, it is currently unknown if
and when engaging in online social networks is overall of benefit or risk to general mental health.
On the one hand, increasing the potential for social interaction and expression appears to be beneficial.
On the other hand, extensive usage may divert time away from “real-world” social interaction time
(see Box 1) and other beneficial lifestyle behaviours such as physical activity and sleep [
]. Further
examination of the costs and benefits of internet usage in this context is now needed. To ameliorate
any adverse eects of internet usage on brain functioning and mental health, there is a need for more
fine-grained research to be conducted using real-time monitoring to establish what types/amounts
of internet usage may be detrimental to well-being, along with determining if and how potential
adverse may be mediated through other factors (e.g., through excessive internet usage being tied to
victimization, social withdrawal, or excessive sedentary behaviour). Following the acquisition of such
informative data, national and international health organizations could formulate evidence-based
guidelines on types and amounts of internet usage (for dierent age groups) in a similar way to public
health guidelines for other health behaviours, e.g., physical activity and sleep [
]. These could then
be disseminated across the population such that the public can make informed decisions regarding
engaging in this relatively new facet of our lifestyles in an informed and safe manner.
Alongside this, it is important to gain further understanding of how social and non-social
(e.g., information-gathering) processes influence cognitive processing dierently. However, it should
be considered that these contexts are often non-independent in reality. This non-independence is
generated by any activity that links these contexts within individuals. For instance, individuals will
often socially share information that they initially accessed in a non-social context. Furthermore,
links between the social- and non-social aspects of the internet could be created through information
gained in a non-social context, subsequently shaping an individual’s social interactions (in terms
of how they interact, and how often they engage in interactions) or through social outlets (such as
social media sites) being used as sources of searching for information (instead of non-social searching
platforms). Therefore, exploring the non-independence and the interactions between these contexts,
and the consequences for cognition, is now of great interest.
4.3. Discovering Avenues for Beneficial Eects of Connected Technologies
The evidence reviewed here has largely concerned the unintentional psychological consequences of
internet use. Along with the ongoing eorts to understand the impact of the internet on human thought
processing and social behaviours, there is also a rapidly growing body of work examining how we can
capitalize upon this in a positive way. The most longstanding example of this is internet-delivered
cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT), which is delivered remotely via a computerized interface and has
been shown to reduce psychological symptoms of various disorders with similar ecacy to face-to-face
therapy [
]. Although completion and ongoing adherence to these initial internet interventions
eorts have proven challenging in real-world settings, the dawn of smartphone technologies presents
a novel platform for constantly accessible, easily disseminated and user-friendly internet-based
psychological interventions [
]. Evidence from meta-analyses has already demonstrated some ecacy
of smartphone-delivered therapies for reducing both depression and anxiety [
]. However, the extent
to which benefits observed in these trials are due to active components of the therapies themselves,
as opposed to individuals connection with their smart devices and expectations for benefit, has yet to
be fully determined [61].
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 9 of 12
5. Summary and Conclusions
In conclusion, the introduction of the internet has clearly impacted many diverse aspects of
society. We hope this review further contextualises the current findings linking the internet to the brain,
cognition, and behavioural outcomes, while also highlighting the key areas for further research
in an era of rapid digitalisation. Whereas the eects of internet use on the brain are not yet fully
understood, there is convergent evidence from multiple fields that our extensive interactions with
this novel feature of society could influence our attention, memory, and other aspects of cognition.
Further longitudinal work is required, particularly in young people. Nonetheless, as we continue to
refine our understanding of potential adverse consequences of internet usage, now is also the time
for examining how this revolutionary tool can be utilized to produce improvements in psychological
and cognitive health.
Author Contributions:
Writing—review and editing, J.F., J.A.F., and J.T. All authors have read and agreed to
the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
J.A.F. was supported by a research fellowship from Merton College and BBSRC (BB/S009752/1)
and acknowledges funding from NERC (NE/S010335/1). J.F. is supported by a University of Manchester Presidential
Fellowship (P123958) and a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship (MR/T021780/1).
Conflicts of Interest:
J.F. has received consultancy fees from Parachute BH for a separate project. All other authors
declare no conflict of interest.
1. Perrin, A.; Jiang, J. About a quarter of US adults say they are almost constantly’online. Pew Res. Center 2018,14.
Anderson, M.; Jiang, J. Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018; Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Washington, DC, USA, 2018; Volume 31, p. 2018.
Loh, K.K.; Kanai, R. How Has the Internet Reshaped Human Cognition? Neuroscientist
,22, 506–520.
[CrossRef] [PubMed]
Firth, J.; Torous, J.; Stubbs, B.; Firth, J.; Steiner, G.; Smith, L.; Alvarez-Jimenez, M.; Gleeson, J.; Vancampfort, D.;
Armitage, C.; et al. The “online brain”: How the Internet may be changing our cognition. World Psychiatry
2019,18. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
5. Wellman, B. Computer networks as social networks. Science 2001,293, 2031–2034. [CrossRef]
Kanai, R.; Bahrami, B.; Roylance, R.; Rees, G. Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure.
Proc. R. Soc. B 2012,279, 1327–1334. [CrossRef]
7. Dunbar, R. The anatomy of friendship. Trends Cogn. Sci. 2018,22, 32–51. [CrossRef]
Hobbs, W.R.; Burke, M.K. Connective recovery in social networks after the death of a friend. Nat. Hum.
Behav. 2017,1, 0092. [CrossRef]
Dunbar, R.I. Do online social media cut through the constraints that limit the size of oine social networks?
R. Soc. Open Sci. 2016,3, 150292. [CrossRef]
Dunbar, R.I.; Arnaboldi, V.; Conti, M.; Passarella, A. The structure of online social networks mirrors those in
the oine world. Soc. Netw. 2015,43, 39–47. [CrossRef]
Crone, E.A.; Konijn, E.A. Media use and brain development during adolescence. Nat. Commun.
,9, 588.
Grossmann, T. The role of medial prefrontal cortex in early social cognition. Front. Hum. Neurosci.
,7, 340.
[CrossRef] [PubMed]
Achterberg, M.; van Duijvenvoorde, A.C.K.; van der Meulen, M.; Euser, S.; Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J.;
Crone, E.A. The neural and behavioral correlates of social evaluation in childhood. Dev. Cogn. Neurosci.
2017,24, 107–117. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Achterberg, M.; van Duijvenvoorde, A.C.; Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J.; Crone, E.A. Control your anger!
The neural basis of aggression regulation in response to negative social feedback. Soc. Cogn. Aect. Neurosci.
2016,11, 712–720. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 10 of 12
Media, C.S. Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences; Common Sense Media: San Francisco, CA,
USA, 2018.
Royal Society for Public Health. Status of Mind: Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health; Royal Society
for Public Health: London, UK, 2017.
Collins, R.L. For better or worse: The impact of upward social comparison on self-evaluations. Psychol. Bull.
1996,119, 51. [CrossRef]
Verduyn, P.; Ybarra, O.; R
sibois, M.; Jonides, J.; Kross, E. Do Social Network Sites Enhance or Undermine
Subjective Well-Being? A Critical Review. Soc. Issues Policy Rev. 2017,11, 274–302. [CrossRef]
Holmgren, H.G.; Coyne, S.M. Can’t stop scrolling!: Pathological use of social networking sites in emerging
adulthood. Addict. Res. Theory 2017,25, 375–382. [CrossRef]
Ophir, E.; Nass, C.; Wagner, A.D. Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
106, 15583–15587. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Jeong, S.H.; Hwang, Y. Media multitasking eects on cognitive vs. attitudinal outcomes: A meta-analysis.
Human Communication Research 2016,42, 599–618. [CrossRef]
Uncapher, M.R.; Wagner, A.D. Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future
directions. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2018,115, 9889–9896. [CrossRef]
Peng, M.; Chen, X.; Zhao, Q.; Zhou, Z. Attentional scope is reduced by Internet use: A behavior and ERP
study. PLoS ONE 2018,13, e0198543. [CrossRef]
Ward, A.F. Supernormal: How the Internet is changing our memories and our minds. Psychol. Inq.
341–348. [CrossRef]
Sparrow, B.; Liu, J.; Wegner, D.M. Google Eects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information
at Our Fingertips. Science 2011,333, 776. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Dong, G.; Potenza, M.N. Behavioural and brain responses related to Internet search and memory. Eur. J.
Neurosci. 2015,42, 2546–2554. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Park, B.; Han, D.H.; Roh, S. Neurobiological findings related to I nternet use disorders. Psychiatry Clin.
Neurosci. 2017,71, 467–478. [CrossRef]
Andersson, G.; Cuijpers, P.; Carlbring, P.; Riper, H.; Hedman, E. Guided Internet-based vs. face-to-face
cognitive behavior therapy for psychiatric and somatic disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
World Psychiatry 2014,13, 288–295. [CrossRef]
Wang, B.-Q.; Yao, N.-Q.; Zhou, X.; Liu, J.; Lv, Z.-T. The association between attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder and internet addiction: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry
,17, 260.
Evren, B.; Evren, C.; Dalbudak, E.; Topcu, M.; Kutlu, N. Relationship of Internet addiction severity with
probable ADHD and diculties in emotion regulation among young adults. Psychiatry Res.
494–500. [CrossRef]
31. Prensky, M. Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. Horizon 2001,9, 1–6. [CrossRef]
Twenge, J.M.; Joiner, T.E.; Rogers, M.L.; Martin, G.N. Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related
Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen
Time. Clinical Psychol. Sci. 2017,6, 3–17. [CrossRef]
Loh, K.K.; Chakraborty, P.; Sadhu, A.; Mukherjee, M.; Datta, H.; Chatterjee, G.; Kanai, R. Longitudinal cognitive
and brain changes associated with one-month of increased Internet access. PsyArXiv 2019. [CrossRef]
Lorenz-Spreen, P.; Mønsted, B.M.; Hövel, P.; Lehmann, S. Accelerating dynamics of collective attention.
Nat. Commun. 2019,10, 1759. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Kühn, S.; Gallinat, J. Brains online: Structural and functional correlates of habitual Internet use. Addict. Biol.
2015,20, 415–422. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Loh, K.K.; Kanai, R. Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in
the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. PLoS ONE 2014,9, e106698. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Ferguson, A.M.; McLean, D.; Risko, E.F. Answers at your fingertips: Access to the Internet influences
willingness to answer questions. Conscious. Cogn. 2015,37, 91–102. [CrossRef]
Barr, N.; Pennycook, G.; Stolz, J.A.; Fugelsang, J.A. The brain in your pocket: Evidence that Smartphones are
used to supplant thinking. Comput. Hum. Behav. 2015,48, 473–480. [CrossRef]
Clayton, R.B.; Leshner, G.; Almond, A. The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition,
Emotion, and Physiology. J. Comput. Mediat. Commun. 2015,20, 119–135. [CrossRef]
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 11 of 12
Dong, G.; Potenza, M.N. Short-term Internet-search practicing modulates brain activity during recollection.
Neuroscience 2016,335, 82–90. [CrossRef]
Liu, X.; Lin, X.; Zheng, M.; Hu, Y.; Wang, Y.; Wang, L.; Du, X.; Dong, G. Internet Search Alters Intra-
and Inter-regional Synchronization in the Temporal Gyrus. Front. Psychol. 2018,9, 260. [CrossRef]
Storm, B.C.; Stone, S.M.; Benjamin, A.S. Using the Internet to access information inflates future use of
the Internet to access other information. Memory 2017,25, 717–723. [CrossRef]
Wang, Y.; Wu, L.; Luo, L.; Zhang, Y.; Dong, G. Short-term Internet search using makes people rely on search
engines when facing unknown issues. PLoS ONE 2017,12, e0176325. [CrossRef]
Heersmink, R. The Internet, Cognitive Enhancement, and the Values of Cognition. Minds Mach.
26, 389–407. [CrossRef]
Bell, V.; Bishop, D.V.M.; Przybylski, A.K. The debate over digital technology and young people. BMJ Br. Med.
J. 2015,351. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Dong, G.; Li, H.; Potenza, M.N. Short-Term Internet-Search Training Is Associated with Increased Fractional
Anisotropy in the Superior Longitudinal Fasciculus in the Parietal Lobe. Front. Neurosci.
,11, 372.
[CrossRef] [PubMed]
Xavier, A.J.; d’Orsi, E.; de Oliveira, C.M.; Orrell, M.; Demakakos, P.; Biddulph, J.P.; Marmot, M.G. English
Longitudinal Study of Aging: Can Internet/E-mail Use Reduce Cognitive Decline? J. Gerontol. Ser. A
69, 1117–1121. [CrossRef]
Small, G.W.; Moody, T.D.; Siddarth, P.; Bookheimer, S.Y. Your brain on Google: Patterns of cerebral activation
during internet searching. Am. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry 2009,17, 116–126. [CrossRef]
Takeuchi, H.; Taki, Y.; Asano, K.; Asano, M.; Sassa, Y.; Yokota, S.; Kotozaki, Y.; Nouchi, R.; Kawashima, R.
Impact of frequency of internet use on development of brain structures and verbal intelligence: Longitudinal
analyses. Hum. Brain Mapp. 2018,39, 4471–4479. [CrossRef]
Ridings, C.M.; Gefen, D. Virtual community attraction: Why people hang out online. J. Comput. Mediat.
Commun. 2004,10, JCMC10110. [CrossRef]
51. Watts, D.J. A twenty-first century science. Nature 2007,445, 489. [CrossRef]
52. Bargh, J.A.; McKenna, K.Y. The Internet and social life. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2004,55, 573–590. [CrossRef]
He, Q.; Turel, O.; Brevers, D.; Bechara, A. Excess social media use in normal populations is associated with
amygdala-striatal but not with prefrontal morphology. Psychiatry Res. Neuroimaging 2017,269, 31–35. [CrossRef]
Montag, C.; Markowetz, A.; Blaszkiewicz, K.; Andone, I.; Lachmann,B.; Sariyska,R.; Trendafilov, B.; Eibes, M.;
Kolb, J.; Reuter, M.; et al. Facebook usage on smartphones and gray matter volume of the nucleus accumbens.
Behav. Brain Res. 2017,329, 221–228. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Twenge, J.M.; Joiner, T.E.; Martin, G.; Rogers, M.L. Amount of Time Online Is Problematic if It Displaces
Face-to-Face Social Interaction and Sleep. Clin. Psychol. Sci. 2018,6, 456–457. [CrossRef]
Firth, J.; Solmi, M.; Wootton, R.E.; Vancampfort, D.; Schuch, F.B.; Hoare, E.; Gilbody, S.; Torous, J.; Teasdale, S.B.;
Jackson, S.E.; et al. A meta-review of “lifestyle psychiatry”: The role of exercise, smoking, diet and sleep in
the prevention and treatment of mental disorders. World Psychiatry
,19. In Press. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Erickson, K.I.; Hillman, C.; Stillman, C.M.; Ballard, R.M.; Bloodgood, B.; Conroy, D.E.; Macko, R.;
Marquez, D.X.; Petruzzello, S.J.; Powell, K.E. Physical Activity, Cognition, and Brain Outcomes: A Review of
the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2019,51, 1242–1251. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Tremblay, M.S.; Chaput, J.-P.; Adamo, K.B.; Aubert, S.; Barnes, J.D.; Choquette, L.; Duggan, M.; Faulkner, G.;
Goldfield, G.S.; Gray, C.E. Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years (0–4 years):
An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. BMC Public Health
,17, 874.
[CrossRef] [PubMed]
Aboujaoude, E.; Salame, W.; Naim, L. Telemental health: A status update. World Psychiatry
,14, 223–230.
[CrossRef] [PubMed]
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020,17, 9481 12 of 12
Linardon, J.; Cuijpers, P.; Carlbring, P.; Messer, M.; Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. The ecacy of app-supported
smartphone interventions for mental health problems: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
World Psychiatry 2019,18, 325–336. [CrossRef]
Torous, J.; Firth, J. The digital placebo eect: Mobile mental health meets clinical psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry
2016,3, 100–102. [CrossRef]
Publisher’s Note:
MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional
2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (
... Since ADHD, attention span, media multitasking and Internet Use Disorder have been related to usage of social media and the internet, these topics will be explored (i.e. Firth et al., 2020;Ko et al., 2009;Wang et al., 2017). Proceeding by the consequences of the possible impairments in attention due to the Internet and social media usage. ...
... Oversaturation of stimuli can be classified as damaging in many ways, starting with attention. High media multitasking levels are associated with reduced gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex and other prefrontal areas, which are responsible for sustained attention and the ability to ignore external-distracting stimuli (Firth et al., 2020). The anterior cingulate cortex, also known as the cognition division, is implicated in a range of executive functions, such as attention allocation, error and novelty detection, and working memory modulation. ...
... Attention is a cognitive process best examined with its relationships with other significant cognitive processes, such as memory. A study suggests that heavy media multitaskers were more likely to be distracted from external stimuli and form impertinent representations in their memories (Firth et al., 2020). One memory encoding initiate with attention meaning that one should focus on something for it to be encoded in their working memory first. ...
... Dolgoročni vplivi uporabe interneta še niso povsem raziskani. Vendar so ti odvisni tudi od starosti, npr., pri starejših osebah lahko uporaba interneta spodbuja kognitivne procese, pri mlajših, ki se še razvijajo, pa lahko negativno vpliva na razvoj višjeravenskih kognitivnih zmožnosti (Firth et al., 2020). Poleg omenjenega je treba upoštevati tudi način uporabe interneta (komunikacija, izmenjava informacij, socialna podpora ipd.) (ibid.). ...
... Cognitively, the overload of permanently accessible information from hyperlinked websites affects our attention and concentration span and decreases long-term memory storage (Firth, Torous and Firth, 2020;Firth et al., 2019). When the information is manipulated, written or visual, the brain relies on adaptive cognitive mechanisms. ...
Full-text available
Soft power public diplomacy has turned into sharp power during the current technological revolution and has facilitated rising power China in implementing its Three Warfare doctrine of psychological, public opinion and legal warfare in unconventionally engaging the United States and Western democracies. This study argues that the popular short video platform TikTok is a Chinese Trojan horse used for espionage and influence operations by China. It collects data, disperses mis- and disinformation and voice-over deep fakes and influences a whole generation’s conscious and unconscious mind, attitudes and behaviour through its highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning algorithm. This paper examines the threat of the weaponisation of TikTok through the interdisciplinary sciences of international relations, cognitive warfare in a ‘grey zone’ battlefield, technology and neuropsychology. Their respective theoretical frameworks will create a broader picture of this unique platform and the threat landscape. It concludes that this app is an immediate and long-term threat to national security and should be considered as a sophisticated tool to collect data and to influence a whole generation, changing the behaviour of Western democracies and in particular the declining superpower that is the United States all while China is enhancing their own.
... Our data show that the average viewer only watches part of the video (Fig. 5). This is likely due to the varying interest of the audience, the high competition of other videos (that are just a click away), and the general shortening of people's attention span (Carstens et al., 2018;Firth et al., 2020). The average viewing time depends on the device used for access (Fig. 7), confirming the general theory that shorter content has great potential. ...
Full-text available
Science communication is becoming increasingly important to connect academia and society and to counteract misinformation. Online video platforms, such as YouTube, allow easily accessible communication of scientific knowledge to audiences made up of the general public. In April 2020, a diverse group of researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, launched the YouTube channel called “Wissenschaft fürs Wohnzimmer” (translated to “Living Room Science”) to stream scientific talks about climate change and biodiversity every Thursday evening, with the aim to reach a broad range of members of the public with a general interest in science and climate. Here we report on the numbers and diversity of content, viewers, and presenters from 2 years and 100 episodes of weekly livestreams. Presented topics encompass all areas of polar research, the scientific and societal aspects of climate change and biodiversity loss, and new technologies to deal with the changing world and climate of the future. We show that constant engagement by a group of co-hosts and presenters representing all topics, career stages, and genders enables the continuous growth of views and subscriptions, i.e. a measurable impact. After 783 d, the channel gained 30 251 views and 828 subscribers and hosted well-known scientists, while enabling especially early-career researchers to foster their outreach and media skills. We show that interactive and science-related videos, both live and on-demand, within a pleasant atmosphere, can be produced alongside the main research activity by scientists, while also maintaining high quality. We further discuss the challenges and possible improvements for the future. Our experiences will help other researchers conduct meaningful scientific outreach and push the boundaries of existing formats towards a better understanding of climate change and our planet.
... This result can be explained by the phenomenon of media multitasking, which refers to the concurrent use of multiple forms of media (Kononova & Chiang, 2015). Given that the internet provides a constant stream of information, users are often encouraged to engage in media multitasking, potentially leading to improved task-switching ability in internet users (Alzahabi et al., 2017;Firth et al., 2020;Uncapher & Wagner, 2018). Prior research supports the link between media multitasking and task-switching ability. ...
Internet use has grown substantially over the past decade. As a result, individuals are more at risk of developing internet addiction. Studies have shown that internet addiction results in neurocognitive dysfunctions. The current study aimed to compare the cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and working memory performance of internet-addicted, at-risk internet-addicted individuals and methamphetamine users to healthy participants using the Wisconsin card sorting task, n-back, and Stroop color and word test. The results showed no significant differences between at-risk internet-addicted and internet-addicted with the healthy group in the Wisconsin card sorting task and in the Stroop test. Surprisingly, the mean n-back accuracy was not significantly different between methamphetamine users and the internet-addicted group. The mean n-back accuracy in the internet-addicted group was significantly lower than that of healthy and at-risk internet addicts. In conclusion, working memory can be impaired under the influence of internet addiction. The results can lead to developing possible intervention programs aimed at the prevention of internet addiction by helping individuals identify and modify their problematic use habits, reducing internet addiction, and improving cognitive functioning.
... While Distributed Cognition in HCI considers a wider range of external factors including social organization, environment, and culture, TMS focuses on the social communication aspect of groups and views communication as a core component of the group memory formation. In recent years, an increasing body of work has studied the effects of technologies on TMS, such as the dynamics of team communication with the integration of an intelligent assistant [32], cognitive processes of individuals using the Internet [10,11], and the computer-mediated communications in virtual teams [3]. However, we have yet to see a discussion of TMS formally applied to socially assistive robot design. ...
Full-text available
Transactive Memory System (TMS) is a group theory that describes how communication can enable the combination of individual minds into a group. While this theory has been extensively studied in human-human groups, it has not yet been formally applied to socially assistive robot design. We demonstrate how the three-phase TMS group communication process-which involves encoding, storage, and retrieval-can be leveraged to improve decision making in socially assistive robots with multiple stakeholders. By clearly defining how the robot is gaining information, storing and updating its memory, and retrieving information from its memory, we believe that socially assistive robots can make better decisions and provide more transparency behind their actions in the group context. Bringing communication theory to robot design can provide a clear framework to help robots integrate better into human-human group dynamics and thus improve their acceptance and use.
... 5,18 As digital technologies have become increasingly present in people's lives, concerns about their use, overuse, and addictive behaviors are growing. Although some studies point out that technology use may negatively affect health, especially memory and attention, 19 its impact is qualitatively different regarding addictive behaviors. For example, Internet overuse and addiction are associated with several psychiatric conditions, such as MDD, GAD, alcohol abuse, and social withdrawal. ...
Hikikomori syndrome (HS) is a voluntary prolonged social isolation associated with personal and community impact. Previous evidence pointed out a possible relationship between this syndrome with addiction to digital technologies. Here we aim to understand the relationship between HS and digital technology use, overuse, and addictive behaviors, as well as potential therapeutic approaches. We conducted a systematic review of observational and intervention studies available in PubMed/MEDLINE, LILACS, IBECS, Embase, PsycINFO, and SciELO databases, following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses Protocols (PRISMA 2020) criteria. The risk of bias was assessed with the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) and Consensus-based Clinical Case Reporting Guideline Development (CARE). Eligibility criteria were pre-, at-risk populations, or those with HS diagnosis, and any kind of technological overuse. Seventeen studies were included in the review, of which eight were cross-sectional, eight were case reports, and one was quasi-experimental. Hikikomori syndrome was associated with addition to digital technologies; no cultural differences were found. Environmental factors, such as a history of bullying, low self-esteem, and grief were identified as precursors of addictive behaviors. The included articles addressed addiction to digital technologies, electronic games, and social networks, among others, in HS. HS is cross-culturally associated with such addiction. The management of these patients remains challenging, and no target evidence-based treatments have been developed. The studies included in this review had several limitations, and more studies with a higher level of evidence are needed to support the results.
Critical thinking is embedded in national university graduate outcomes and included in international bodies’ statements on higher education. At the same time, there are tensions surrounding critical thinking in higher education, such as its commodification, Eurocentrism, and relationship to rapidly digitalising cultures. Drawing from the philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s writings on human originary technicity, this paper argues that critical thinking takes different forms according to technical and cultural milieus. For Stiegler, human originary technicity makes prosthesis the human condition: we are biological and technical, both organic and inorganic matter. Reasoning, reflection, and evaluation are relative to the technologies of memory that form everyday and intellectual culture. Stiegler’s analysis articulates how digitalisation threatens and protects reasoning and reflection, enabling the demonstration of how critical thinking takes specific forms in digitalised societies. The paper proposes prosthetic critical thinking as a practice that can embrace differing understandings of critical thinking, namely as skills and dispositions associated with reasoning and as the practice of critical pedagogy. The resulting understanding of critical thinking shows it to be a plural, inclusive, and contingent practice relevant to higher education.
Background: Studies have identified sleep, screen time, and physical activity as independent risk factors for cognitive impairment in adolescents. However, little is known about how these factors interact to contribute to cognitive difficulties. This study aimed to investigate the association between 24-h movement guidelines and cognitive difficulties in adolescents. Methods: Data from the 2019 Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance was used for analysis. Participants self-reported their screen time, sleep, and physical activity levels, and cognitive difficulty was assessed using a standardized protocol with a binary response (Yes or No). Logistic regression analysis was used to evaluate the association between 24-h movement behaviours and cognitive difficulty, with results reported as the odds ratio (OR) with a 95% confidence interval (CI). Results: After controlling for covariates (e.g., sex, age), compared to adolescents not adhering to none of the 24-h movement guidelines, adhering to the screen time (OR = 1.68, 95%CI: 1.37-2.05) and sleep guidelines (OR = 1.32, 95%CI: 1.08-1.61) were more likely to report no cognitive difficulties in adolescents, respectively. Adhering to all the 24-h movement guidelines was also likely to increase the odds of reporting no cognitive difficulties (OR = 3.38, 95%: 2.15-5.30). Conclusions: The study findings suggest that promoting better 24-h movement behaviours could be an effective approach to reducing cognitive difficulties in adolescents. Future studies should use improved study designs to confirm or refute these results.
Full-text available
There is increasing academic and clinical interest in how "lifestyle factors" traditionally associated with physical health may also relate to mental health and psychological well-being. In response, international and national health bodies are producing guidelines to address health behaviors in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. However, the current evidence for the causal role of lifestyle factors in the onset and prognosis of mental disorders is unclear. We performed a systematic meta-review of the top-tier evidence examining how physical activity, sleep, dietary patterns and tobacco smoking impact on the risk and treatment outcomes across a range of mental disorders. Results from 29 meta-analyses of prospective/cohort studies, 12 Mendelian randomization studies, two meta-reviews, and two meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials were synthesized to generate overviews of the evidence for targeting each of the specific lifestyle factors in the prevention and treatment of depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Standout findings include: a) convergent evidence indicating the use of physical activity in primary prevention and clinical treatment across a spectrum of mental disorders; b) emerging evidence implicating tobacco smoking as a causal factor in onset of both common and severe mental illness; c) the need to clearly establish causal relations between dietary patterns and risk of mental illness, and how diet should be best addressed within mental health care; and d) poor sleep as a risk factor for mental illness, although with further research required to understand the complex, bidirectional relations and the benefits of non-pharmacological sleep-focused interventions. The potentially shared neurobiological pathways between multiple lifestyle factors and mental health are discussed, along with directions for future research, and recommendations for the implementation of these findings at public health and clinical service levels.
Full-text available
Internet technologies have profoundly changed the way we access information, manage our tasks, consume media, and our social interactions. The present work aims to provide insights into the long-term, causal influence of Internet exposure on our cognitive systems via an unprecedented, intervention-based experiment where we investigated the potential brain and cognitive changes that occurred in a rare sample of 35 young Indian adults who had minimal prior contact with Internet-related technologies, after being provided with unlimited Internet access for a month. Additionally, we performed cross-sectional comparisons of brain structure and cognitive measures between these subjects and a control group that consisted individuals who are frequent users of the Internet. Our key findings indicated that one month of increased Internet access resulted in increased media-multitasking behaviors and decreased abilities to process emotional content in faces. Critically, contrary to previous reports, our cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses found no significant effects of Internet exposure on brain structure and across a range of executive functions (impulse inhibition, attention control, task-switching and fluid intelligence) and social-cognitive measures (social network sizes, loneliness and face perception ability).
Full-text available
The impact of the Internet across multiple aspects of modern society is clear. However, the influence that it may have on our brain structure and functioning remains a central topic of investigation. Here we draw on recent psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging findings to examine several key hypotheses on how the Internet may be changing our cognition. Specifically, we explore how unique features of the online world may be influencing: a) attentional capacities, as the constantly evolving stream of online information encourages our divided attention across multiple media sources, at the expense of sustained concentration; b) memory processes, as this vast and ubiquitous source of online information begins to shift the way we retrieve, store, and even value knowledge; and c) social cognition, as the ability for online social settings to resemble and evoke real‐world social processes creates a new interplay between the Internet and our social lives, including our self‐concepts and self‐esteem. Overall, the available evidence indicates that the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in each of these areas of cognition, which may be reflected in changes in the brain. However, an emerging priority for future research is to determine the effects of extensive online media usage on cognitive development in youth, and examine how this may differ from cognitive outcomes and brain impact of uses of Internet in the elderly. We conclude by proposing how Internet research could be integrated into broader research settings to study how this unprecedented new facet of society can affect our cognition and the brain across the life course.
Full-text available
With news pushed to smart phones in real time and social media reactions spreading across the globe in seconds, the public discussion can appear accelerated and temporally fragmented. In longitudinal datasets across various domains, covering multiple decades, we find increasing gradients and shortened periods in the trajectories of how cultural items receive collective attention. Is this the inevitable conclusion of the way information is disseminated and consumed? Our findings support this hypothesis. Using a simple mathematical model of topics competing for finite collective attention, we are able to explain the empirical data remarkably well. Our modeling suggests that the accelerating ups and downs of popular content are driven by increasing production and consumption of content, resulting in a more rapid exhaustion of limited attention resources. In the interplay with competition for novelty, this causes growing turnover rates and individual topics receiving shorter intervals of collective attention.
Full-text available
Media and technology are ubiquitous elements of our daily lives, and their use can offer many benefits and rewards. At the same time, decisions about how individuals structure their use of media can be informed by consideration of whether, and if so how, the mind and brain are shaped by different use patterns. Here we review the growing body of research that investigates the cognitive and neural profiles of individuals who differ in the extent to which they simultaneously engage with multiple media streams, or ‟media multitasking.” While the literature is still sparse, and is marked by both convergent and divergent findings, the balance of evidence suggests that heavier media multitaskers exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains, relative to lighter media multitaskers (although many studies find no performance differences between groups). When evidence points to a relationship between media multitasking level and cognition, it is often on tasks that require or are influenced by fluctuations in sustained goal-directed attention. Given the real-world significance of such findings, further research is needed to uncover the mechanistic underpinnings of observed differences, to determine the direction of causality, to understand whether remediation efforts are needed and effective, and to determine how measurement heterogeneity relates to variable outcomes. Such efforts will ultimately inform decisions about how to minimize the potential costs and maximize the many benefits of our ever-evolving media landscape.
Full-text available
As a crucial living environment, the Internet shapes cognition. The Internet provides massive information that can be accessed quickly via hyperlinks, but the information is typically fragmentary and concrete rather than integrative. According to construal level theory, the processing of this concrete and fragmentary information, should reduce attentional scope. Two experiments were conducted to test this hypothesis. In Experiment 1, three groups of participants were asked to shop online, read magazines or have a rest respectively, and a divided attention Navon-letter task was employed to measure the attentional scope before and after the assigned activity. It was found that the difference between reaction times in response to local vs. global targets was decreased only after Internet use, while there was no decrease in either the reading or resting group. In Experiment 2, the same procedure was used, and EEG/ERP methods were used to record both behavioral response and neural activity. Results showed that before the assigned activity, there was no significant difference in N2 amplitude in response to local vs. global targets in any of the three groups; during the activity, the lower-alpha activity induced by Internet use was significantly lower than that induced by reading or resting; after the activity, correspondingly, a more negative N2 wave was induced by the global than local targets only in the Internet group, while there were no significant differences in the other groups. Consistent with construal level theory, the results suggest that when surfing the Internet, attentional scope is reduced, and this effect might continue after Internet activity.
Although impressive progress has been made toward developing empirically‐supported psychological treatments, the reality remains that a significant proportion of people with mental health problems do not receive these treatments. Finding ways to reduce this treatment gap is crucial. Since app‐supported smartphone interventions are touted as a possible solution, access to up‐to‐date guidance around the evidence base and clinical utility of these interventions is needed. We conducted a meta‐analysis of 66 randomized controlled trials of app‐supported smartphone interventions for mental health problems. Smartphone interventions significantly outperformed control conditions in improving depressive (g=0.28, n=54) and generalized anxiety (g=0.30, n=39) symptoms, stress levels (g=0.35, n=27), quality of life (g=0.35, n=43), general psychiatric distress (g=0.40, n=12), social anxiety symptoms (g=0.58, n=6), and positive affect (g=0.44, n=6), with most effects being robust even after adjusting for various possible biasing factors (type of control condition, risk of bias rating). Smartphone interventions conferred no significant benefit over control conditions on panic symptoms (g=–0.05, n=3), post‐traumatic stress symptoms (g=0.18, n=4), and negative affect (g=–0.08, n=5). Studies that delivered a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)‐based app and offered professional guidance and reminders to engage produced larger effects on multiple outcomes. Smartphone interventions did not differ significantly from active interventions (face‐to‐face, computerized treatment), although the number of studies was low (n≤13). The efficacy of app‐supported smartphone interventions for common mental health problems was thus confirmed. Although mental health apps are not intended to replace professional clinical services, the present findings highlight the potential of apps to serve as a cost‐effective, easily accessible, and low intensity intervention for those who cannot receive standard psychological treatment.
Purpose: Physical activity (PA) is known to improve cognitive and brain function, but debate continues regarding the consistency and magnitude of its effects, populations and cognitive domains most affected, and parameters necessary to achieve the greatest improvements (e.g., dose). Methods: In this umbrella review conducted in part for the 2018 Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee, we examined whether PA interventions enhance cognitive and brain outcomes across the life span, as well as in populations experiencing cognitive dysfunction (e.g., schizophrenia). Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and pooled analyses were used. We further examined whether engaging in greater amounts of PA is associated with a reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia in late adulthood. Results: Moderate evidence from randomized controlled trials indicates an association between moderate- to vigorous-intensity PA and improvements in cognition, including performance on academic achievement and neuropsychological tests, such as those measuring processing speed, memory, and executive function. Strong evidence demonstrates that acute bouts of moderate- to vigorous-intensity PA have transient benefits for cognition during the postrecovery period after exercise. Strong evidence demonstrates that greater amounts of PA are associated with a reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer's disease. The strength of the findings varies across the life span and in individuals with medical conditions influencing cognition. Conclusions: There is moderate-to-strong support that PA benefits cognitive functioning during early and late periods of the life span and in certain populations characterized by cognitive deficits.
The aim of the present study was to evaluate relationship of Internet addiction (IA) symptom severity with probable attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and difficulties in emotion regulation, while controlling the effects of depression, anxiety and neuroticism. The study was conducted with online survey among 1010 volunteered participants of university students and/or amateur or professional gamers. Scale scores were higher among the group with high probability of ADHD (n = 190, 18.8%). In linear regression analysis, both Inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity dimensions of ADHD were related with the severity of IA symptoms, together with depression and non-accept dimension of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS). Similarly, presence of probable ADHD was related with the severity of IA symptoms in ANCOVA, together with depression, neuroticism and non-accept dimension of DERS. Participants were two different groups of non-clinical samples and all scales were self-rated. Also common comorbidities were not screened. Finally, since this study is cross-sectional the findings of this study cannot address the causal relationships among the primary constructs of interest. These findings suggest that the presence of probable ADHD is related with the severity of IA symptoms, together with the difficulties in emotion regulation, particularly non-accept dimension, depression and neuroticism among young adults.
Excessive internet use is shown to be cross sectionally associated with lower cognitive functioning and reduced volume of several brain areas. However, the effects of daily internet use on the development of verbal intelligence and brain structures have not been investigated. Here, we cross sectionally examined the effects of the frequency of internet use on regional gray/white matter volume (rGMV/rWMV) and verbal intelligence as well as their longitudinal changes after 3.0 ± 0.3 (standard deviation) years in a large sample of children recruited from the general population (mean age, 11.2 ± 3.1 years; range, 5.7–18.4 years). Although there were no significant associations in cross sectional analyses, a higher frequency of internet use was found to be associated with decrease of verbal intelligence and smaller increase in rGMV and rWMV of widespread brain areas after a few years in longitudinal analyses. These areas involve areas related to language processing, attention and executive functions, emotion, and reward. In conclusion, frequent internet use is directly or indirectly associated with decrease of verbal intelligence and development to smaller gray matter volume at later stages.