Throughout our evolutionary history, our cognitive systems have been altered by the advent of technological inventions such as primitive tools, spoken language, writing, and arithmetic systems. Thirty years ago, the Internet surfaced as the latest technological invention poised to deeply reshape human cognition. With its multifaceted affordances, the Internet environment has profoundly transformed our thoughts and behaviors. Growing up with Internet technologies, "Digital Natives" gravitate toward "shallow" information processing behaviors characterized by rapid attention shifting and reduced deliberations. They engage in increased multitasking behaviors that are linked to increased distractibility and poor executive control abilities. Digital natives also exhibit higher prevalence of Internet-related addictive behaviors that reflect altered reward-processing and self-control mechanisms. Recent neuroimaging investigations have suggested associations between these Internet-related cognitive impacts and structural changes in the brain. Against mounting apprehension over the Internet's consequences on our cognitive systems, several researchers have lamented that these concerns were often exaggerated beyond existing scientific evidence. In the present review, we aim to provide an objective overview of the Internet's impacts on our cognitive systems. We critically discuss current empirical evidence about how the Internet environment has altered the cognitive behaviors and structures involved in information processing, executive control, and reward-processing.
Keywords: Internet addiction; Internet effects; cognition; digital natives; human brain; multitasking; neuroscience; technology.
© The Author(s) 2015.