How Neuroplasticity Affects Perception and Performance
One of the most important characteristics of the human brain and cognitive functions is adaptability to stimuli.
“Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, is a process that involves adaptive structural and functional changes to the brain. It is defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections after injuries, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI)” (Puderbaugh & Emmady, 2022).
It is the nature of the species to adapt to the environment by creating a habitable space for internal and external peace as the body is in a constant search for stasis. With this knowledge, human factors professionals must produce balance in design.
Scope of the Problem
In a collaboration or individual design, the adaptability of the person is one of the most important characteristics of neuroplasticity that must be considered to produce effective outcomes. While it is often safe to assume generalized human capabilities such as vision, hearing, pressure detection, etc., it cannot be assumed that these changes made are safe or healthy for cognition.
For example, human-machine interfaces (HMI) such as cell phones have led to issues such as automation bias and health concerns, such as childhood obesity (Wardzinski, et. al., 2022). The idea of “experience-dependent plasticity” supports that experience can shape the nervous system (Goldstein, p. 79, 2018). Heightened stimulation due to consistent flows of information, (not limited to vision, but also vibrations and electrical waves), could affect how the discrimination index (Guastello, p. 41, 2013) functions. It could be possible that the brain cannot accurately operate at a higher rate of thought generation, thus causing automation bias, and further possibly, health concerns. Being unable to decipher the information, it becomes static and trusted for reference if necessary for function which creates a delay in reaction and recall time. Thus, the term “Google It” has been coined.
Considering the elevated levels of cognitive ability, human perception can be manipulated, just as behavior:
“Biological organisms adapt their behavior through value systems, which provide relatively nonspecific, modulatory signals to the rest of the brain that bias the outcome of local changes in synaptic efficacy in the direction needed to satisfy global needs” (Fleischer & Edelman, 2009).
This research is supportive of the classical and operant conditioning models of early psychologists suggesting that these “examples of value systems in the brain include the dopaminergic, cholinergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic systems that respond to environmental cues signaling reward prediction, uncertainty, stress responses, and novelty” (Fleischer & Edelman, 2009).
The perception that cell phones and mobile electronic devices are necessary items for an individual has been heavily promoted over the last 20 years. Value systems have been incorporated into design elements to elicit responses such as reward prediction and novelty to increase the positive perception of interactions. Technology is historically driven by industry and politics; but, while the cell phone has unarguably created a life of convenience for many, the question as to the long-term effects of daily use must be brought into the research field as human-machine interfaces (HMI) become an integral part of society.
To construct a study to examine how to demonstrate this aspect of cognition, the specific research question is:
“How does the use of mobile devices affect perception and performance related to the operations of neuroplasticity?”
Human factors researchers must continue to address the effects of employing the use of cell phones for children specifically as the effects on growth and learning have not been determined as positive. Learning is stimulated through bottom-up processing that is perceived and utilized by the brain to create a subjective environment through trial and error that results in a top-down processing function. While children may respond to bright colors and loud sounds, there is not enough research to support replacing exposure to the natural environment with simulation booths. Automation bias is dangerous as children could become desensitized to information that would otherwise have been perceived as a warning during important stages of neuroplasticity development.
Physical limitations of the human body also must be considered as the hands, arms, face, and neck were not designed for the constant use of cell phones, smart watches, or other current wearable devices. The line of sight must be adjusted which creates many uncomfortable positions for even the most agile body. This poses health risks such as carpal tunnel syndrome, vision distortion, and skeletal dysmorphia, while more “findings showed an association between mobile phone use and headache/migraine, concentration difficulties, fatigue, skin itches, and sleep disturbances in children and high school students” (Wardzinski, et. al., 2022) due to ineffective perception processing.
Recommendations for Research
Determining a healthy balance in the human-machine interface (HMI) is imperative to the success of integration as human factors professionals themselves are challenged to develop human-centric tools with the rapid changes in information. It is possible that the constant flow of information on all frequencies is the cause of more than simply automation bias, but also deeper issues such as energy deprivation and depression which could lead to studies in social cognition. Research on the effects of vibrations and electrical impulses from the devices also is suggested to further understand how to improve human-machine interfaces (HMI).
In a quest to re-create the human experience, the technological movement is overlooking important questions in the development of human-machine interfaces (HMI) such as:
“Should human-machine interfaces (HMI) require so much adaptation from human input when advertised to the mainstream with intended perceptions of life efficacy?”
The first correction to the quest must be to adjust the perception of self to engage with the environment in expectation of experience resulting from natural stimulation that leads to original thought. In the belief that Wertheimer’s intrinsic laws of the early 1900s (Goldstein, p. 77, 2018) are examples of ancestral DNA imprinting that assist in neuroplasticity, the code to unlock the human experience is interaction, not stimulation.
Fleischer, J. G., & Edelman, G. M. (2009). Brain-based devices. IEEE Robotics Automation Magazine, 16(3), 33–41. https://doi.org/10.1109/mra.2009.933621
Goldstein, E. B. (2018). Cognitive psychology: connecting mind research and everyday experience (5th ed.). 77-79. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Guastello, S. J. (2013). Human factors engineering and ergonomics: A systems approach, second edition. 40-41. Taylor & Francis Group.
Puderbaugh, M., & Emmady, P. (2022, May 8). Neuroplasticity. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557811/
Wardzinski, E. K., Jauch-Chara, K., Haars, S., Melchert, U. H., Scholand-Engler, H. G., & Oltmanns, K. M. (2022, January 14). Mobile phone radiation deflects brain energy homeostasis and prompts human food ingestion. Nutrients. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8777647/