Do you have hard staying off your smartphone or blackberry for more than a few minutes? Especially when you’re a bit bored. Now that these devices have become full-fledged computers, they let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.
The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting down time that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.
At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.
The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn. We already know that having a nap after learning something new helps embed the information. So if you’re bored, your brain might be better off if you opt for a nap or a run instead more screen time.