Your brain on Netflix might look shockingly similar to a brain on drugs. Recent studies have found similarities between the brain’s response to extended screen exposure and drug use.
Prolonged screen use can give you an “addict’s brain.” This phenomenon was discovered in a study where individuals who used the internet regularly were asked to unplug from all screens for one day. The participants displayed both the physical and mental symptoms of drug withdrawal. This finding suggests that screen time is linked to dopamine function.
In addition to turing you into an after school special, screen time can cause atrophy in specific parts of the brain. These areas include:
- gray matter areas, where the processing of information and decisions are made
- striatum, responsible for reward pathways and impulses – reduced impulse inhibition, increased sensitivity to rewards and insensitivity to loss
- insula, controls empathy
- white matter, which links hemispheres and controls communication
Sensory overload associated with prolonged screen time can also fatigue the brain, impeding the memory and learning processes. Relaxing in front of the computer after a long day’s work is actually a taxing task for your brain. A study out of the University of California found that rats consolidated information from a novel experience better after they took a break from stimuli. This “resting period” allows the brain to process experiences into long-term memory and is thought to apply to the learning process of humans as well.
Then how can we avoid becoming “addicted” to Netflix or prolonged screen time? You guessed it, exercise! Studies show that consistent exercise can combat damage to the brain caused by prolonged screen time and beef up the brain’s memory and learning capacities. Taking breaks away from the screen, especially outside, can also help with mood and working memory.
So next time you want to binge watch an entire season of Game of Thrones, think of your brain and read the books instead.