Digital media are a great danger for our brain

Foto: industrie-4.0

“Digital media is fulfilling a fundamental dream of humanity: the mastery of time and space, but that also entails a great danger”, says brain researcher Professor Dr. Dr. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt from the University of Bielefeld. If media users do not get the upper hand about their actions and plans they succumb unnoticed to a kind of cyberattack on the networks of their brains.

Particularly those subsystems, which are responsible for the memory formation and for the cognitive achievements are attacked. This can cause addiction, burnout or depression. A new challenge both in terms of study and in the world of work will not be to allow the media to put us in their service. It is therefore useful to know more about those nerve networks in the brain that make us strong. At the beginning of May the brain researcher gave a lecture on “Where does the digital revolution go?” at the Technical University of Darmstadt/Hesse. “If we keep the cart running like this, a whole generation of digitized children will return to the Stone Age”  Teuchert-Noodt warns. Professor Teuchert-Noodt, you are talking about the ‘Cyber attack on the brain nerves’. What is meant by this, what can / must the laity imagine?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: It is what it is: no matter whether a cyber attack is directed indirectly to the computer networks of digital highly-equipped devices that are important for specific infrastructures or directly to specific brain nerves, both have a corresponding penetrating force. Thus, just as hackers can shut down the power supply of a hospital, media users in their own brain can override the care center for the entire information processing at the psycho-cognitive level and cause an emotional / mental exhaustion. Maybe a brain crash is even worse. Because the neurochemical and brain-rhythmically controlled functions in the corresponding highest brain regions – the limbic prefrontal system – are very difficult with a recovery from a digitally induced attack, especially since this is accompanied by imperceptible creeping symptoms.

Prof. Dr.Dr. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt talks about “Democracy inside the Brain” during the traffic campaign day of the association Cockpit in May 2015 / Photo: How is the human brain prepared for digitization?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: The human brain has been prepared for digitization at least three thousand years, since the Phoenicians introduced our current alphabet. For three centuries, however, the schooling of the child, writing, reading and counting could become a cultural and technical success. The sensory-motorized bark fields of the child’s brain, maturing in a defined time window, are optimally applied. Only the fully mature primary and secondary nerve networks in these cortex fields allow the adult to become creative in abstract patterns of thinking and also to deal wisely with digital media, or perhaps even write programs and algorhythms.

It is a fallacy to assume that the modern child can take over the handling of digital media directly from adults, due to the minimal technical effort. According to the knowledge of brain research, the child’s brain will not be prepared for a deal with the media in the next thousand years! For cognitive performance is dependent on the prolonged and intrinsically induced maturation of primary and secondary nerve networks in the child’s cortex in order to accomplish later associative work. It must be stressed at this point that digital media act as extreme acceleration factors on the maturing functional systems of the cortex by producing a kind of emergency maturation of the nerve networks and are irreparably addictive.

If we let the cart continue, a whole generation of digitized children will return to the Stone Age. It has long been apparent that even the adult has not grown infinitely in the technically highly equipped working world. After all, biological conditions conditioned by psycho-cognitive functions remain subject to the background of a spatio-temporal work of the nervous system. For the first time in the history of mankind, this neural foundation, which is absolutely necessary for thought processes, is disputed by the digitization. Is there any wise way to deal with digitalization reasonably?

Prof. Getraud Teuchert-Noodt: Reasonable handling of digital media demands the adult self-evident intelligence to control the conscious use of media and digital media. And in any case, it is urgently necessary for socio-politicians to redefine human workplaces and adapt them to the neuronal capacities of employees. In your lecture, you showed a picture of the Homo erectus with the headline “Let man know what you are”. What do you mean by that?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: From an evolutionary point of view, Homo erectus was subjected to a major challenge about two million years ago; Biological weapons had been lost to him. This was the selective pressure on more brain ability, that is, more of such abilities that would allow him to resist the powers of nature. So more learning ability with increasing brain volume and prolonged childhood. The ecological niche of Homo sapiens is thus to be seen in a completely new, perennial structure, the frontal lobe, which enables humans to think in space-time in historical categories and to advance to new horizons by means of creative ideas. This niche wants him to dispute the digital revolution nowadays. For the frontal lobe needs the long time of about 20 years until it has matured. A digital schooling of children could not go without loss of the full competences of their still maturing brain. There is a public appeal from German university lecturers for the dramatic drop in mathematics in schools. What has been the effect?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: This call of March 2017 has had the effect that pedagogues have vehemently justified publicly, but obviously do not feel compelled to think about the causes, which the appeal clearly states: Nor a superficial mediation, a deeper content-based employment no longer takes place …. “And the ministers of education and culture may ensure that” Germany’s schools can return to a mathematical education oriented towards subject matter. Important foundations are included in the curricula … “

The dramatic drop in performance in the field of mathematics has, on the other hand, caused the fact that neglecting “symbolic, formal and technical elements of mathematics and abstract content” does not teach the fundamentals of thought. Why is it so important that smartphones are kept away from small children?

Prof. Geftraud Teuchert-Noodt: If they are already using smartphones, tablets and more, they are automatically and quickly integrated into a dependency. This is organized in a limbic circuit, which works under the threshold of consciousness in the brain and which the immature brain of the child does not yet have access to (as a “reward system”). Moreover, such a kind of dependency leads automatically to the fact that the nerve networks in higher bark fields – for example for talking, writing, reading and calculating – can only be supplied insufficiently by the limbic hyperactivity of a digitized child. Corresponding functional performance can be difficult to make up in the later development, then the train has left. The infant is affected by an intrinsic stress. There are two aspects to be considered: First it is hardly possible to program the child in the medium term to 1/2 media hours per day; The danger of addiction creeps in anyway. One knows that a daily smallest alcoholic drink is sufficient to make a child an alcoholic.Second, the child’s brain, which is designed as an imitation of the child, is particularly vulnerable when the parents observe the constant use of digital media. Parents can only become a role model again and turn away the addiction risk of their child, if they renounce themselves in the private life as far as possible on smartphone and Co. 

You warn against electrosmog, it can influence the thinking. Why?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: In the meantime there are many indications that electrosmog is a cause of tumor formation in the brain. But there is little evidence that – below this disease threshold – cognitive performance can also be manipulated by extrinsic electromagnetic waves. With the perennial rhythms it interferes with them in this or that subsystem, and have a negative effect on phase-synchronized higher-order oscillations. We have conducted a specific pilot study (Hoffmann K, Bagorda F, Stevenson AFG, Teuchert-Noodt G (2001), Electromagnetic exposure effects of the hippocampal dentate cell proliferation in gerbils, Ind. J. Exp. Biol. 39, 1220-1226) , Which we had described as notable in a local magazine, which is why we had elected a renowned indian specialist journal. The result was a “window effect”, which means that defined frequencies of a magnetic coil permanently altered the new formation of nerve cells in the hippocampal nucleus of the rodents. The highly sensitive neuroplasticity in the limbic system, which has recently been recognized, is of central importance for learning and memory formation. Many further quantitative studies on the plasticity of nerve cells and transmitters (in our Bielefeld laboratory) allow for the conclusion that, under defined extrinsic electromagnetic oscillations, functions in the frontal brain and association cortices could be significantly interfered with in their function. This applies to the learning ability, concentration and reasoning. What is the consequence for everyday life?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: As little use as possible of electronic devices in the household and the rest of private life. No WLAN in schools! You advise walking (without smartphone) to generate ideas. What happens during this activity in the brain?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: The brain is lifelong programmed for motoric activities, which, together with other sensory perceptions, are fed into the senses and the movement apparatus. When sitting on a desk, the hereditary activities are shifting to the highest level. First, it creates concentration and high thinking. However, the capacities of the necessary and transmitter-controlled processes are limited, recreational phases are necessary, movements such as walks have a particularly positive effect. For, slow rhythmic body movements and casual subliminal sensory impressions regenerate and stimulate the perceptible physiological processes on a holistic level and lead them to a rearrangement of the background neural activity. Especially the rhythmically slow vibrations of the step support this holistic brain stimulation to a high degree. You say it’s better to read texts on paper than on the screen, why?

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: Some years of self-discovery have made me think about why the brain does not read, correct and interpret screen texts as carefully as the texts on paper allow. My preliminary brain-physiological explanation is the following. For a deepened reading of a text, not only the sensomotor association fields in the parietal and occipital cortex, which are responsible for reading, are actively in demand. However, the eye focuses particularly on reading on the screen. Thus, it primarily uses a purely serial excitation transmission in the cortex, that is, of a “machine” reading with a restricted mental field of view. The text is quickly read, page by page “wiped” on the tablet. But, at the same time it is also important to do formal / content evaluation work on the subject of the text reading. Multitasking is almost a system feature of the brain, which makes it easier to read it on paper. In addition to the series, parallel circuits are additionally included and short partial aspects are read subliminally redundant. This promotes the deepened handling of the content. In addition, the so-called “working memory” in the frontal brain is used to allow deliberate presence for a few seconds and to leave associative activities on both hemispheres – and thus on the entire paper as well. The eye can remain in the text on paper. This is important, because the lake branch is dependent on the pictorial-spatial co-operation with the subsystems of the brain responsible for concentration and memory formation. Is there a conclusion to the dilemma “Human brain and digital world”

Prof. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt: There should be no dilemma if man were to fulfill his destiny and ability to give reason and responsibility the highest priority and not to be used by the digital media, but to use it as a hand tool use. In the middle of the past century, two initiators (the cybernetic Johannes Wiener, 1948 and the behavioral psychologist Donald Hebb, 1949) have set the stage for both – natural and technical intelligence research. The knowledge of the natural intelligence, collected over the decades, has given us an era of new maturity, which is to be perceived as our mission: “Let thee think, man, thy dowry is the brow.”

A first idea would be to introduce the digital driving license: children until the age of 11 kept completely away from digital media; Alternative offers (hiking, playing, sports, etc.) have always proved their worth. From the age of 12 onwards, a first driving license can be introduced at schools from the age of 16. Parents of small children should apply that they even renounce to digital media in the private life as well as keep other stress factors small; That would release them from a lot of anger and worries, improve school performance and give the opportunity for a new media generation to grow up.

Interview: Johanna Wenninger-Muhr

Prof. Dr. Dr. Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt headed the Department of Neuroanatomy / Human Biology at the University of Bielefeld, Faculty of Biology. Specific fields of research include quantitative immunohistochemistry of neurotransmitters and neuronal networks in the development of psycho-cognitive brain functions. In her lectures she critically deals with the effect of digital media on the brain, for example at the beginning of May at the Technical University Darmstadt or in June 2016 at an event of the network culture2business in June 2016. Title of lecture: “Cyber attack on our brain? Strategies for a healthy use of digital media in companies. “- Source: © 2017


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