Is our brain still the same: Cognitive changes and modern technology

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9 min

There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we think, interact, and work. From new ways to multitask to Zoom fatigue to remote collaboration, our brain adapts faster than we notice.  

We asked Aivaras Vilutis, Interactio Research Coordinator, about the connection between cognitive changes and modern technology, the advantages and disadvantages of these changes, and how remote interpretation plays a role in this transition. 

What would you say are the main changes in the human mind after the transition to the digital world and, particularly, events?

The transition to the digital world and events overall is not new – it’s been happening for the past 30 years already, from the very moment the Internet appeared. I am from the generation that spent all of their lives transitioning. That being said, during the pandemic, this progress was so much more exaggerated – all of the generations were pushed towards technology, and, in simple words, the brain started behaving differently. That’s where the term neuroplasticity comes in to understand the changes that have been happening to us. 

Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brain to remodel itself to adjust to new functions. Through new environments, activities, learning new languages, and attending multilingual events, our brain creates new junctions between the neurons to adapt to something new. 

When we started to transition so rapidly, some of our brain functions became less important, some – more important than ever, forcing our brains to adjust. More specifically, we need all five of our senses to memorize information during events: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing all come together to help us remember and perceive the world around us. 

When you think about the senses that we can use in the virtual events world, the list is obviously shorter: we can see what’s happening on the screen and hear the speakers, but what about the taste, smell, and touch? We lose those! If you look at some of the drawbacks, we can only use half of the senses, which makes our memory formation process more difficult. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. 

What can be done in virtual events to adapt to those changes in the human brain?

Well, in the most basic sense, adjusting the events to meet the needs of the human brain, the five senses, in particular, is the first step. 

For the visual sense, you have to pay special attention to the audience: organizers know their audience best. Some participants might need more engaging designs, while others perceive more toned-down presentations better. In any case, fitting visuals help people be more engaged – and memorize better as a result. This tip remains true for both physical and virtual spaces. 

As for sound, we only hear the speaker in online events, which is usually the same as in on-site events. What we need to do to take this a step further is to implement more sounds. If there’s a break, start playing music during the breaks. We associate the music we hear with the information we just received, so our brain creates new junctions and connections between neurons, making the memory stronger. It’s a simple thing: asking participants what their favorite song is, playing it during breaks, and helping their memory in the long run. 

When we move to taste, I can give a personal example: many scientists joke that they go to conferences only to, well, try out the free food. In the scientific world, some conferences still send packages with food and beverages to their online participants. It’s not only a nice addition to the event process, but it’s also another memory aid that helps make connections and form memories. 

The same goes with smell: from the experience of some spiritual and well-being conferences, organizers send scented candles and ask people to light them as they listen to the online session. Immediately, the engagement is uplifted by many levels. 

The hardest thing to implement is touch. Nothing compares to a real handshake or a hug. What’s promising in the online event world is virtual reality and augmented reality – they’re definitely going to be implemented on a much higher level soon, especially with the technology we use now in VR games, such as tactile gloves. In the future, you probably will be able to shake the hand of your colleague as you both attend the conference completely virtually. 

We might not have many of those fixes yet, but there are ways to implement them – and they definitely will be integrated into the events of the future.

What are some of the advantages and threats of these changes in our brain and the virtual world?

The world was globalizing really fast, and the pandemic slowed it down a bit, but the scope of globalization is once again becoming broader. As a result, we started attending more online events that are not in our first language, primarily in English. Many changes in our brain happen because of that – not all of us are proficient in the language enough. While the information became more accessible, it also opened up possibilities for misinformation and fake news. 

I link the level of misinformation with the fact that we consume more knowledge not in our mother tongue than ever before. Even if a bilingual audience understands the core of the speaker’s message at the event, other social cues like intonation, facial expressions, and body language are not that easily translated. In simpler words, it is harder for a non-native speaker to understand if someone is lying or not. That, mainly, can lead to easier miscommunication – and it does, on a regular basis.

One way to overcome this is, of course, interpretation. Interpreters are trained professionals who are skilled to bridge the gap between languages and cultures; it is much easier for people to understand the message in their own language and, therefore, decide whether to believe it or not.

Do you think there is a way for modern software, RSI, in particular, to cater to these cognitive changes? 

In a way, RSI has already been helping with the transition to the digital world and making knowledge more accessible than ever. In the most straightforward sense, it is easier to tune into the event in another language even if you don’t know it; for example, studies show that older people have a harder time learning new languages, so why not include them? The same goes for rare languages, sign languages, and groups of people that don’t have access to high-quality linguistic education. 

From another perspective, RSI makes it easier for us to interpret the information because we consume it through our mother tongue. Having interpretation in the event is easier than ever, with interpreters and participants joining remotely. 

Neuroplasticity and changes in our brains are always cognitively stressful and, in fact, not extremely fast. RSI helps our brains adapt; it makes the information accessible and, more importantly, reliable.


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Published on

Dec 21, 2021

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Aivaras Vilutis

Research Coordinator at Interactio

Aivaras is a researcher at heart who has been looking for aliens and interesting research opportunities alike, recently finishing his degree in Neurobiophysics, specializing in astrobiology and honing his craft as a scientist. After joining Interactio in June 2021, he made it his goal to dive into the world of RSI and advocate for science-based decisions in the language industry.