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Aditi Nerurkar, MD Headshot

Can Tweeting Affect Our Biology?

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Recently in the Twitterverse, Deepak Chopra shared this: "How you interpret a Tweet can raise your adrenaline, give you a dopamine hit, or give peace."

...which got me thinking about the biology of a Tweet.

Science has definitively shown us that our inner landscape is shaped by our outer experience. There's an entire realm of research devoted to studying how our neural pathways respond and change based on our actions: It's called neuroplasticity. And countless studies on jugglers, piano players, athletes and meditators have shown neuroplasticity at work.

As we Tweet, post, like, share, and pin, are our brains registering our digital frenzy and shapeshifting accordingly? Preliminary research suggests yes. We also know that our digital life can alter our processing of thoughts. Psychologists have come up with the phrase "popcorn brain" to describe this phenomenon. It's that rapid-fire succession of thoughts we have when we're in our digital mode, which for some can make life offline seem unbearably mundane by comparison. In more extreme cases, like Internet addiction, studies have found actual changes on brain scans, though what these changes mean clinically is not yet known.

So how can we, however temporarily, cut the digital cord? New York Times columnist Jenna Wortham found the "charm of a life less connected" at the pool. For others, their unplug-drug-du-jour is running, walking, or even the simple act of pondering.

Unfortunately, pondering is becoming a lost art, crowded out by our inevitably digitized ways. During our spacious moments these days, we're less apt to gaze off and get lost in our own thoughts. Instead, as we wait for the bus, our dry cleaning, or our doctor... we keep our nose firmly pointed to the digital stone. Some might say this is a new kind of pondering -- a collective thinking out loud, rather than a quiet, inward reflection. I'm not so sure.

Social media is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, but how it affects our biology is still a big question. As one Twitter user so eloquently stated in response to Deepak Chopra, "How do we play in social media, without it playing with us?"

Now that's worth a ponder.

For more by Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., click here.

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