The Brain That Changes Itself – book excerpt


I’m in the middle of reading a fascinating book entitled The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. Much of what I’ve read thus far has application to principles of optimal child development. Here is one excerpt from the book that I found enlightening:

Most people think that the dangers created by the media are a result of content. But Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian who founded media studies in the 1950s and predicted the Internet twenty years before it was invented, was the first to intuit that the media change our brains irrespective of content, and he famously said, “The medium is the message.” McLuhan was arguing that each medium reorganizes our mind and brain in its own unique way and that the consequences of these reorganizations are far more significant than the effects of the content or “message.” (page 308)

Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium – cuts, edits, zooms, pans, and sudden noises – that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the “orienting response,” which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. . . Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can’t keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orienting responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult. (pages 309, 310) (Emphasis added)

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