Among every generation across the world, people are more plugged in than ever before. In fact, Americans spend almost a quarter of their time online on social networking sites; 42 percent of children under 8 years old have a TV in their bedroom, and half (52 percent) of these children have access to a new mobile device such as a smart phone, video iPod, or iPad/tablet . The question is, will these youngsters grow into productive citizens of the digital age, or will the countless hours spent attached to the virtual world prevent the world's youth from reaching their potential?
It is widely accepted that technology affects cognitive development. The developing brain is more malleable in response to experience than is the adult brain . Thus, the persuasive effects of technology on children are an important concern. An article posted in September's issue of Neuron sought to answer "how", and if these changes are for better or for worse. Constructive limits can be defined only after truly understanding the adverse effects of technology.
The first task in this investigation was distinguishing temporary and long-term effects of technology. The changes in mood and arousal typically cease and eventually disappear after the experience (like listening to an up-tempo piece of music or playing a fast-paced video game) ends. Therefore, the focus of this study was on long-term behavioral outcomes of technology use. It was found that different kinds of media have different content, task requirements, and attentional demands and thus lead to different behavioral effects. For example, technological applications that on the surface seem rather mindless (such as action video games) can result in improvements in a number of basic attentional, motor, and visual skills, whereas technology specifically developed for the purpose of enhancing cognitive abilities, such as infant-directed media including the "Baby Einstein" collection or various "brain games" designed for adults, may lead to no effects or, worse, may lead to unanticipated negative effects .
Many popular children's shows have been investigated. It was found that to be effective, early intervention programs need not only engage the young viewer, but they must also elicit direct participation from the child, provide a strong language model, avoid overloading the child with distracting stimulation, include a well-articulated narrative structure, exemplify how to resolve social conflicts and productively manage disagreements and frustration. Time spent watching the children's television show "Teletubbies" has been linked with a reduction in language skills, whereas "Sesame Street," "Blue's Clues," "Clifford the Big Red Dog," and "Dora the Explorer" allow us to ask what characteristics lead to beneficial outcomes and what characteristics lead to negative outcomes. Furthermore, children who report playing action games show significantly increased attentional skills as compared with those who do not. However, only a fine line separates a stimulating and successful media from an overloading experience, making the development of such games challenging.
At the molecular level, acetylcholine and dopamine have been linked to these mechanisms. Recent technological developments have enabled researchers to isolate key events hypothesized to promote learning and brain plasticity from a continuous media stream. By injecting content along with these events, learning can be directly assessed. This approach reveals the critical role of neurotransmitters in the control of learning and brain plasticity. Events that are arousing are likely to trigger a release of acetylcholine. It is hypothesized that acetylcholine facilitates the retuning of existing connectivity in an experience-dependent manner, which allows for better behavioral inference from the learned experience. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter implicated in executive functions and the control of attention, also promotes brain plasticity.
By thoroughly understanding the neurological mechanisms associated with technology use, behavioral outcomes can be accurately predicted, and beneficial outcomes can be determined based on neural processing rather than external characteristics. That way, learning models can be designed to maximize the benefits of technology for the future.
 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=MiamiImage[ URL&_cid=272195&_user=10&_pii=S0896627310006781&_check=y&_coverDate=2010-09-09&view=c&_gw=y&wchp=dGLbVlB-zSkWb&md5=d791cca69497401e5cc3917c609a96a4/1-s2.0-S0896627310006781-main.pdf