Optimizing Brain Fitness Review – Impact of Technology

Welcome to another blog post from a carer in London. I thought to do another lecture review from one of “The Teaching Company” courses. This post focuses on the course called Optimizing Brain Fitness, which is taught by Dr. Richard Restak who is a Clinical Professor of Neurology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Dr. Richard Restak

The lecture I am interested on this course is Lecture 11 – Taking Advantage of Technology. The course has 12 lectures and examines what connections in the brain creates our thoughts, what drive our emotions, and what control our behaviours.

So lets get into lecture 11, how can our brain take advantage of technology and what are the hidden dangers of technology.

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Dr Richard wants to get away from the concept that the Brain is a computer. He feels that the brain is itself a brain and is not the same thing as some microchip. Its important not to force the brain to work as anything but as itself.

Richard gives us some examples, the first is how students learn things by going through questions over and over again until the learning structure is embedded deep in their mind. Another example is of taking an eye test, where again we learn and compare what is the best affect on sight.

The thing is, that the Brain does most tasks unconsciously, we are not aware as what it at first and it seems most things  are done automatically after they have been learnt.

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Richard gives us another example on unconscious learning where we develop a way of attuning to sounds in order to incorporate gadgets into our lives, this is where someone recognises a device they have chosen a sound to activate e.g. like a mobile phone ring tone.

Dr Richard then continues on how this lecture explores how technology aids the brain and also can cause the brain a lot of problems. Richard feels that the greatest influence on the brain is actually culture rather than technology. It is basically how technology is used within culture rather than the uses to itself.

The advantages of technology is how portable computers have extended brains power. We do not have to remember things so often and let the devices store dates, text and pictures for us. Another advantage is the use of different software where we can tailor the software to fit our lifestyle.


The lecture then moves on to the history of technology and how it has extended the brain. The first is of how written journals on paper has its uses, but the problem is storage. Where can you store all these journals? With computer journals, your storage problems are fixed, plus the benefit of how you can index files to store and recall information at ease, which is something you cannot do with written journals.

Dr Richard then talks about a book called “Total recall” by Gordon Bell and on how digital storage has affected our ability to recall information with speed and efficiency. Richard then talks about how digital storage allows your present to visit an earlier time of you from digital storage and how this can affect your future, but what of the idea that the use of computers can change the structure of the brain?


Dr Richard feels we can now be creative anywhere and can cross reference and link things at ease. He then touches on the experimental aspects of technology. He gives us a great example on how he watches and listens to music on YouTube, where he feels watching such videos affected his experience in a deep way, where its like technology provides a form of immortality where he can see or hear from an artists who died ages ago.

There is unfortunately a Dark side to technology where it can impediments the brain. There is always a low to high risk where people can become hooked on gadgets, because of technology we now live in an age of distraction. The more we use technology, the more our concentration decreases. Worse of still is how we also live in an age of information overload. Our biological processes have not caught up with technological demands.

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Another negative impact technology has on the brain is that the deep processing of info is replaced by skimming and surfing, especially if viewing information on the Internet. Dr Richard feels that multitasking is encouraged because of the way that hyper-links are embedded on webpages, which can distract from current page we are reading.

To make matters worse we also can end up with on-line interruptions from pop ups, advertising, and our minds can loose interest by falling into email curiosity, where we check our emails constantly, we check for text and audio messages from our phones, the brain has to loose capacity to concentrate at some point.

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Dr Richard examines How do videos affect the brain, he talks about the Shift in brain function from right to left hemisphere and how tests and experiments record how people prefer reading from the book rather than using a screen or monitor

The lecture on “Taking Advantage of Technology” spends most of its time on how the video game industry has dominated brain optimization. For those who spend an hour a day playing a video game, then its not too bad, success stories of how World of Warcraft ended up with 20 million subscribers and also considering that its not mostly even children playing.

There however is a dark side to video gaming and yes it can be addictive, lead to escapism where relationships decline so quick that it is a social health warning, which the lecture goes into more detail later on.


How can game playing optimize the brain? Dr Richard talks about how quickly game players react to situational awareness, enhanced eye hand coordination and also increased collaboration skills. The lecture mentions an experiment, which looks at two groups of students playing video games. The first group were hardened video game players, while the second had little to no interest or history of gaming. The experiment examined how people stared at a monitor trying to track a random moving target which flashes around the screen. The groups were then asked where was original target first flashed. The first group had 80% gamers who got this right.

Other benefits of games is that it can get you to notice more, concentrate better and even increase some of your IQ. The industry also takes gaming serious when it is applied to the real world where the use of Airline pilots testing and using Simulators, which is well a video game isn’t it? This is the same for surgeons on simulators testing to remove damage from the body.

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Going back to the problem of gaming. Dr Richard touches on addiction where we were given examples of where a 28 yr man died playing a game after a 50 hour marathon. There has also been cases where parents neglected their children, where some children die. With the advent of on-line games, addiction problems increase. This is especially the case for China and South Korea where boot camps have been set up to deal with the addiction epidemic. It has gotten so bad that the psychiatric association wondered if video game addiction could be entered on to the DSM.

Apart from the reasons mentioned above, the course then looks at Why are video game harmful. On difficult cases you can easily isolate yourself from everyone else. There has been cases in Japan where young people isolate themselves from others due to spending time on on-line games at home, especially to avoid bullying and the harsh school grade system. Another problem is situating yourself inside the game. This presents a huge difficult problem for social media where Facebook, Twitter and so on can lead to people loosing their identity as they throw themselves in the world of Facebook creating an identity they feel is better than the real world.

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What about the themes of violent games? We have risk of desensitisation to violence from those who play such games, especially with first person shooter games which become more realistic with the advancement of processing power of the consoles, the lecture specifies that those who do not play such games have a strong emotional reaction when exposed to such games, but for those who constantly play such games; when they see violent images on the TV it seems the emotional reaction is missing, Dr Richard feels it goes to show that we learn from what we see.

Its not all bad news when it comes to video games. Dr Richard points out that there are games that have been applied to real world problems. For example games that enhance collaboration, e.g. Games on a world without oil, dealing with genocide problems, the fate of the world where you call the shots on dealing with global warming. Such applied games can help shape solutions to dealing with real life future problems.

In the end Dr Richard stresses that the Importance of optimization is finding activities that you enjoy. It might seem that the impact of technology on society is so great that many just find it so useful regardless of how technology affects our brains.

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