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Using technology can change your brain — and not always for the better. Here’s a primer on how your tech habits might be helping or hurting your IQ.

By (@doctorsmartass)

November 30, 2010

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Dr. SmartassWe all know technology can affect our brains — overpriced Apple products give us an inflated sense of self-worth, for example, while buggy Microsoft products give us high levels of anger and aggression — but now researchers are starting to uncover evidence that tech could also have a long-term impact on our intelligence. Yes, dear reader, all that tweeting and texting could be affecting your ol’ noggin.

With all the info out there, it gets tough to keep track of what’s good for your brain and what’s bad. So, being your dependable virtual doctor, I decided to decipher all the studies and put them together into one simple guide for you. Follow this list, and you should be able to beat Keanu Reeves at Boggle in no time.

(A quick word of encouragement: If you’re still with me at this point, take it as a good sign. Several readers have already dropped off due to overloading of their limited brain cells.)

The activity: Surfing the Web

The result: Good for your brain

General Web use improves cognitive functioning and results in brain stimulation, UCLA neuroscientists find. Looking at porn-related sites, however, may result in stimulation of a different kind.

The activity: Watching television

The result: Good for your brainTechnology and Intelligence

Forget the old idea of the boob tube bringing your brain down: Research released just a few days ago finds the telly can actually help your gray matter grow, if you tune in to the right shows. Shows such as “The Simpsons,” “Lost,” and “24” make you “more receptive to new information and ideas,” according to an international study by the universities of Surrey and Illinois. Shows such as “Dollhouse,” on the other hand, make you more likely to chuckle at the name “Eliza Dushku.”

The activity: Using Facebook

The result: Good for your brain

Keeping up with your pals can do more than boost your social status — it can also boost your brain power. A Scottish psychologist says Facebook use enhances your “working memory,” a part of intelligence that lets you remember and reuse incoming information.

Granted, all that information may be about how your buddy Anthony got “so freakin drunk last night, omg,” but at least it’s something.

The activity: Using Twitter

The result: Bad for your brain

The same praise, unfortunately, can’t be given to Twitter. The instant nature of the microblogging service, our Scottish doc finds, eats away at your intelligence quotient.

“Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections,” the shrink says.

Following Ashton Kutcher could speed up that brain-numbing effect by as much as 500 percent.

The activity: Texting

The result: Bad for your brainSexting

Sorry, heavy-sexters: All that finger-tapping is turning you into a moron. Several studies have found regular text messaging to be linked to low IQ scores. Other recent research concludes predictive text messaging actually changes the way your brain works, making you more prone to mistakes and training you to be fast and inaccurate.

(Your own Dr. Smartass, by the way, suffers from the same “fast and inaccurate” diagnosis in certain other domains, as the painfully critical Mrs. S frequently reminds him.)

The activity: E-mailing

The result: Very bad for your brain

Constant e-mailing can hurt your IQ “more than pot,” British scientists attest. Behold:

“The IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points, the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.”

The take-home message: Skip the inbox, buy a bong, and cut out the middle man.

The activity: Playing Tetris

The result: Very good for your brain

Those colored blocks don’t only build an on-screen mess — they also help build your brain. A study published this month shows the “challenging visuospatial task” undertaken with Tetris and other similar games can reshape the structure of your brain, giving you greater efficiency and thicker cortexes.

On a side note, Dr. Smartass once spent $150 on a treatment for a thicker “cortex” and will never trust late-night infomercials again.

A few final notes

While these aren’t directly tech-related, the following studies should be of interest to anyone in our proud geek community:

Sexy Librarian

Until next time,

Dr. Smartass

*This particular study, admittedly, may not have been fully legit. But we’re going to believe it anyway.

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