This Is Your Brain on Drugs; This Is Your Brain on Instant Messaging

Earlier this year, many of us were saddened (although not really surprised) to view the picture of fourteen-time US gold medalist Michael Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong. When you viewed this picture, did you think you’d never do anything as unhealthy as engaging in the use of recreational drugs? However, many of us are doing just that without even knowing it.

In his book Magnificent Mind at Any Age: Natural Ways to Unleash Your Brain’s Maximum Potential, Dr. Daniel Amen writes, “According to a recent study, the distractions of constant e-mails, text messages, and voice mail are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than is smoking marijuana.”1

Amen goes on to site the work of Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at King’s College, London University. Dr. Wilson has conducted 80 clinical trials dealing with the effects of the prolonged distractions of keeping up with e-mails. These trials revealed that the “average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the 4-point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users. The most damage was done . . . by the almost complete lack of discipline in handling e-mails. Dr. Wilson and his colleagues found a compulsion to reply to each new message, leading to constant changes of direction, which inevitably tired and slowed down the brain.”2

So the next time you find yourself feeling compelled to answer each e-mail as it falls into your inbox, or the next time you’re tempted to IM up to 15 people at a time (which some people are known to do)3 just IM-agine yourself smoking a bong.

Not a pretty picture, is it?

2. Daniel G. Amen, M.D., Magnificent Mind at Any Age: Natural Ways to Unleash Your Brain’s Maximum Potential (New York: Harmony Books, 2008), pp. 36, 37.
3. Ibid., p. 36.
4. Ibid., p. 35.