What is constant multi-tasking doing to teens' brains? That's the question NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien set out to answer as he interviewed teens and neuroscience experts around the country.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health are currently studying whether teens' addictions to technology are wiring their brains differently than those of their parents and earlier generations. During adolescence, brain connections are "pruned" - those that are used a lot are strengthened, while those that are rarely used fall off.
According to a scientist at UCLA who also studies the effects of technology on teens' brains, the brain's release of the chemical dopamine has a lot to do with why technology can become addictive for young people. When the brain experiences something pleasurable, like connecting with others via social networking, it is hard-wired to want more of it by releasing dopamine.
Yet other researchers say multi-tasking and playing intense video games can actually help develop some skills like better vision and improved short-term memory. Because modern technology is still in its infancy, scientists are only uncovering the beginnings of how it will affect the human brain functions of tomorrow.
"I think I think faster. I have more outcomes in my head. I'm always thinking, because, in the game, you are trying to accomplish certain tasks, and there's many different ways to accomplish these tasks. And if I could do it in the game, I feel I do it in person, too. And I am just always thinking of different ideas." - Michael Chaves, professional video gamer
"The Internet and iPods and Facebook and all of these video games, and these changes are so recent in terms of human history, that it is going to be very interesting to see how the brain adapts to doing all these different things, and often many of them at the same time." - Dr. Jay Giedd, Neuroscientist, NIMH
"What the technology really does, it accelerates anything that is human, anything that we like. We can get addicted to being connected with other people through texting, through social networking, all kinds of programs that are very seductive to our brains." - Dr. Gary Small, UCLA
1. What is an addiction?
2. What forms of technology do you use every day? Do you ever use more than one of them at a time?
3. How do you think your generation is different from your parents'?
1. Do you find it hard to focus on one thing at a time? If so, what's hard about it?
2. Do you think your generation will be well prepared to lead the world in the coming decades? Do you think technology will help you do so? Why or why not?
3. Do you consider yourself "addicted" to any form of technology? If so, why do you think you keep going back? What's addicting about it?
4. What skills do you think you have built as a result of using technology?