Researchers examined 24 adults between the ages of 55 and 78 considered to be neurologically normal. Before the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little web experience.
Participants searched the Internet while undergoing brain scans which recorded the changes in brain-circuitry. Then, they went home and searched some more. They conducted Internet searches for an hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period.
Those who participated in the study then underwent another brain scan while conducting more searches. The second scan revealed activation of more regions in the brain than the first scan.
Researchers say the people with even minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users.
"The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults," said Teena D. Moody, the study's first author and a senior research associate at the Semel Institute at UCLA, in a statement.