The Internet is changing the way the human brain works, researchers have found.

It is improving people's ability to make snap decisions and filter large amounts of information — but at the cost of subtle skills such as picking up the nuances of facial expression.

Overall, a new study concludes, the brains of those tested were markedly more active when carrying out Internet searches than when reading books.

However, the stimulation was concentrated in the areas that control decision-making and complex reasoning. Areas linked to abstract thinking and empathy showed virtually no increase in stimulation.

Gary Small, director of the memory and aging research centre at the University of California, Los Angeles, who carried out the research, said that, while computers have marked benefits in stimulating the brain, their use needed to be moderated.

There was a possibility, he argued, that the saturation use of digital technology could lead to long-term evolutionary change.

"Young people are growing up immersed in this technology and their brains are more malleable, more plastic and changing than with older brains," said Small.

• Click here to read the rest of this story at the Times of London.

• Click here to read how the same study implies the Internet could help older brains stay young.

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