Entertainment gadgets could break your brain

Scientists believe that constant exposure to high-tech gadgetry is robbing our brains of the downtime needed to actually make sense of all that information.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, say that when rats encounter a new experience, such as exploring an unfamiliar place, their brains show new patterns of activity.

But it's only once the rats have taken a break from their exploration that their brains appear to process those experiences and turn them into a persistent memory. The team suspects that these findings could also apply to the way humans learn.

"Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it's had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories," Loren Frank, UCSF assistant professor of physiology told the New York Times yesterday.

Professor Frank suggests that when your brain is constantly stimulated, "you prevent this learning process".

So what is the effect of using the many visually complex, information-heavy applications that are designed to encourage multi-tasking, or to entertain us while we're engaged in other activities?

Researchers from the University of Michigan believe that processing a barrage of information leaves people feeling fatigued. You may think that watching videos on your iPhone helps you to relax - but it may actually be making the problem worse.

Mobile phones, MP3 players and portable video devices are just some of the gadgets that distract the brain from the valuable task of assimilating all the information it takes on board. Some, such as RIM's BlackBerry - nicknamed 'CrackBerry' by some - are even alleged to be responsible for an addiction to technology.

"People think they're refreshing themselves, but they're fatiguing themselves," said Marc Berman, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan.

Maybe it's about time you took that screen break. It might just make you feel better.