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A great battle in the brain

We helped Premieres Lignes--a French news agency--spread the word about the conflict between impulsivity and cognitive control when it comes to our digital devices.



Paul Moreira (@PaulMoreiraPLTV) from Premieres Lignes, an independent press agency in France, visited the lab on December 7, as part of his work putting together a story on the effects of digital technology upon children. Mr. Moreira was interested in the role of the #brain (the brain is everything, isn’t it?) in how technology affects us.

Impulsivity versus Planning

We spoke specifically of how a person’s impulsive relationship with devices is tempered by goals, plans, and strategies for being an effective and successful person. The former, involving the brain’s reward circuitry, often conflicts with the latter, involving the executive functions and the brain’s prefrontal cortex. In the lab, we were able to measure activity in Mr. Moreira’s prefrontal cortex as he attempted to ignore his ringing cellphone.

how important the executive functions are in keeping people focused and on task, especially in the context of using modern personal technologies

Measuring the Prefrontal Cortex

We used the #fNIR device in the Brain Imaging Laboratory. This amazing technology uses infrared light beams to detect changes in the levels of blood molecules in the prefrontal cortex. This gives us an indirect measure of brain activity: when a part of the brain does more work, it requires more oxygenated blood.



My goal was to help Mr. Moreira understand how important the executive functions are in keeping people focused and on task, especially in the context of using modern personal technologies. Of course, in children, this part of the brain is not well developed. In fact, experts says that the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to mature, possibly not until an individual is in her or his late 20s.


Mr. Moreira's project is fascinating...only I wish that I understood French so that I fully will be able to appreciate the final segment when it airs on French television! Many thanks to the students who helped with the demonstration--José Franco, Samantha Ortiz, and Enya Valentin--and to Paul Browning from CSU Dominguez Hills.


(photo by Jessica Guszak)

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California State University, Dominguez Hills

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