Using the internet can actually change the way your brain works, but retailers will do well by continuing to offer their customers a mixture of digital interaction and a human touch.

UCLA neuroscientist Dr Gary Small says that technology is responsible for an evolution in our ability to filter large amounts of information and come to quick decisions.

His work on the subject has been highlighted around the world this week as he has a book out on the subject entitled ‘iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind’.

Anecdotally, this is something that we hear a lot, from technology analysts, as well as from retailers themselves — usually in relation to their younger customer bases.

Now Small has explained the science behind the phenomenon of teenagers who manage to surf the web for products while listening to iTunes, chatting to their friends using instant messaging and texting others.

His research has shown that that experienced internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making compared to those that are new to the internet.

But while these “digital natives” can be quick to come to a decision, Small thinks in the longer run it will be those that still know when to use social skills as well as technical ones who will be society’s winners.

So virtual assistants, e-catalogues, Facebook applications, Second Life stores, and the whole host of other digital delights that retailers can get involved with in order to interact with customers are all well and good.

But it sounds like if you want the most successful next-generation of consumers as your customers, it won’t hurt to keep offering the option of actually talking to a member of your staff.