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Our gadgets are literally eating our minds: The physical effects of our device use on our brains

by Melanie Gallo, PhD

Before you zone out at the thought of a bunch of blah blah blah about your brain and digital tech and research zzzzzzz............... take a couple of minutes to glance through and learn a little because as the United Negro College Fund's famous long-time slogan states, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."  Or, according to the great (non) philosopher Dan Quayle, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful." No joke. He said that. 

Neuroscience research is providing more and more evidence that digital technologies are restructuring the way we read and think, and not always for the better. Changes in brain circuitry cause thinking, reasoning, and remembering skills to increase while other "deep thinking" capabilities deteriorate.  However, there are things that we can do to fight this attack on our minds. 

Oxford University Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield warns that young brains are being rewired by digital technology. Baby-boomers and other digital immigrants like myself, grew up with the television being one of the main technology luxuries in our homes. Therefore, the life we've lived already, the experiences we've had, the conceptual frameworks that we've developed, the attitudes we have, the memories that we have, and the individuality that we've developed can offset against whatever other influences are coming in through the digital devices.  

Unfortunately the same does not apply with the younger generation. Children who once used their imaginations are now more likely to sit in front of a screen, taking in large volumes of information through menus that someone else has designed.  "The issue is that information isn't knowledge. Of course you can be bombarded with endless information, endless facts, but if you can't make sense of them one fact is the same as any other fact." - Susan Greenfield.

Digital Dementia

Digital Dementia occurs when digital technology is overused to the point where it results in the breakdown of cognitive (brain) performance, including short term memory dysfunction. 

  • We used to have to memorize phone numbers.  However, most kids today have grown up not needing to remember phone numbers and other types of key information because we now have devices to do it for us.  

  • Can also affect people in a way that is similar to people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.  

Imbalanced brain development (the left brain-right brain thing)

Over-use of smartphones, technology and game devices causes a disruption to the balanced development of the brain (called lateralization of brain function).

  • Device use can lead to the development of the cognitive (linear, rational, fact-finding) skills of the left side


  • Device use can simultaneously lead to damage of the more imaginative, emotional, intuitive right side of the brain. Individuals may experience:

  • decreased ability to concentrate

  • short attention span

  • shortened memory span

  • emotional disturbances such as depression. 

Loss of brain matter

Much of the physical damage caused by overuse of screen technology occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe already undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties, which largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. However, digital technology contributes to a physical loss of brain matter that negatively affects:

Mental processing 

  • Control of functions such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control (“getting stuff done”). 

  • Detection of rewards

  • Control of socially unacceptable impulses. 

  • Development of empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion (both with violent behavior and in personal relationships) 


  • Between the right side and left side of the brain (Right = creativity, facial recognition, attention control. Left = language, speech, problem-solving)  

  • Between the thinking and emotional/survival areas of the brain

  • Between the brain and the body and vice versa. Interrupted connections may slow down signals, “short-circuit” them, or cause them to misfire. 

According to neurologist Dr. Carolyn Brockington from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City, we can fight this imbalanced brain deterioration caused by overuse of technology by ‘exercising our brains’.

1. Use your head. Instead of "Googling" information that is on the tip of your toung, retrieve it from your brain organically. Sit there and concentrate until you can recall it.

2. Read an actual book. Yep. Not a tablet but an actual paper book which been shown to improve memory retention.

3. Learn another language. Your brain works harder when you are pushed outside your comfort zone, which makes you smarter.

4. Play an instrument. Both sides of the brain are used when playing an instrument like the piano or a guitar. This strengthens and balances brain functioning. 

5. Do a physical activity. Physical exercise increases blood flow and the transport of important nutrients to your brain. 

Melanie Gallo, PhD is a doctor for businesses providing psychology-based business solutions to individuals and organizations. For more information please visit and text or call today! 

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