One of the problems we face online is the sheer volume of distraction. If you are on a single web page adverts flash at you, videos interrupt you and all manner of links entice you to find out more. And if you are just searching for stuff, there’s plenty of options to choose from and you get introduced to things you hadn’t considered which take you off at tangents. There is little doubt that engaging with the web can actually disengage your brain from the task in hand.
Indeed, you have probably never been as interrupted in your life – emails, Tweets, LinkedIn messages, newsletters and pop-ups all serve to take you away from what you are doing. They present you with an increased cognitive load, reducing your ability to concentrate and get on with things.
New research has looked at the use of electoencephelogram (EEG) feedback and its potential impact for changing the function of the brain – and the findings have important implications for people who use the web.
It has been known for some time that people who produce plenty of brain waves known as “alpha waves” tend to be able to concentrate well. Extroverts, for instance, produce high levels of alpha waves, as do the “glass half full” kind of people. The new research looked at whether using EEG feedback techniques to get people to produce more alpha waves could lead to a change in brain function that was lasting. The scientists discovered that this indeed could happen. By using EEG biofeedback they were able to get people to produce more alpha waves on their own long after the EEG was removed. In other words, the biofeedback changed the function of the participant’s brain, allowing them to naturally produce more alpha waves, even though there was no longer any feedback mechanism to help the individuals do this.
The researchers were looking for the impact of EEG biofeedback on people with cognitive disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia. However, their findings confirm the “plasticity” of the brain – whereby the function can be altered by the environment. For people with cognitive conditions it means that EEG feedback could be used as a means of treatment to help improve their abilities. But for those of us who do not have such psychological conditions the research provides an interesting twist.
One of the issues with cognitive disorders is lack of ability to focus and concentrate. With an increase in alpha waves this is altered and people can become less distracted. In other words, if you are bamboozled by all the stuff online competing for your attention you too could benefit from an increase in alpha waves, enabling you to get a similar cognitive boost.
But what if you don’t have an EEG machine handy…?
Well, fear not, there are other ways of generating additional alpha waves. Yoga is one easy way of increasing alpha waves, as is meditation. Learning to relax more is good too – you can help yourself do that using self-hypnosis audio downloads for instance. You can also increase your alpha waves by taking yourself away from your computer and doing something else like watching a movie on TV or reading a book. In other words, your use of the Internet will be improved when you use it less…!