Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Wired Mind

Vaughan Bell posts a lot of interesting articles on his website, Mind Hacks, but this paper by Bavelier, Green & Dye particularly caught my eye. It's a discussion of the interaction between modern technology and cognition; quite rightfully, the authors take it for granted that technology affects cognitive development. That, in and of itself, is a fairly trivial statement - everything we interact with affects our cognitive development, surely?

The important question is how modern technology is affecting our cognition. To further specify the question they should be seeking to answer, the authors also note that referring to "technology" as a single entity is as ridiculous as suggesting that there is only one kind of "food"; if one asks "How does food affect physical development?", your answer is going to vary wildly depending upon what type of food you investigate. It is not unreasonable to conjecture that the same is true for technology; what type of technology is involved in cognitive development is important.

The discussion that follows from this clarification is fairly interesting, and pleasantly devoid of the sensationalism that talk of technology's effect on the mind can sometimes contain. The authors seem fairly hopeful that newer technologies may eventually lead to improved theories of learning - something which I share their optimism for. Video games, in particular, seems particularly useful within the context of psychological and neuroscientific experimentation, and I know some game companies actively work with researchers in an attempt to benefit their own designs - Valve, as a good example, has an in-house psychologist.

So the cognitive sciences can benefit from utilising modern technology in research, and designers of modern technology can benefit from utilising the research of the cognitive sciences. Seems like a win-win scenario, doesn't it? Maybe - hopefully - there will be a proliferation of communication between the two areas in future.

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