when people pass time interacting with their smartphones thru touchscreen, it in fact changes the way their thumbs and brains work together, according to a report in the Cell Press journal Present Biology on December 23. More touchscreen usage in the latest past translates straight into greater brain activity when the thumbs and other fingertips are touched, the research shows.
"I was really astonished by the scale of the changes brought together by the use of smartphones," says Arko Ghosh of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich in Switzerland. "I was also hit by how much of the inter-individual differences in the fingertip-associated brain signals could be simply described by evaluating the smartphone logs."
It all began when Ghosh and his associates understood that our newfound passion with smartphones could be a grand chance to explore the everyday plasticity of the human brain. Not only are people rapidly using their fingertips, and especially their thumbs, in a new way, but many of us are also doing it a shocking lot, day after day. Not only that, but our phones are also keeping track of our digital histories to deliver a readymade source of data on those behaviours.
Ghosh enlightens it this way: "I think first we must appreciate how common personal digital devices are and how heavily people use them. What this means for us neuroscientists is that the digital account we carry in our pockets has a huge amount of info on how we use our fingertips (and more)."
While neuroscientists have long researched brain plasticity in expert groups--musicians or video gamers, for instance--smartphones present a chance to understand how regular life shapes the brains of regular people.
To connect digital fingerprints to brain activity in the new study, Ghosh and his team used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain reaction to mechanical touch on the thumb, index, and middle fingertips of touchscreen phone users in comparison to people who still haven't left their old-school keypad phones.
The scientists found that the electrical activity in the brains of smartphone users was boosted when all three fingertips were touched. In fact, the quantity of activity in the cortex of the brain related with the thumb and index fingertips was directly proportional to the intensity of phone use, as quantified by built-in battery logs. The thumb tip was even delicate to day-to-day fluctuations: the shorter the time lapsed from an episode of intense phone use, the scientists report, the larger was the cortical potential linked with it.
The results propose to the scientists that frequant movements over the smooth touchscreen surface reshape sensory processing from the hand, with daily updates in the brain's representation of the fingertips. And that leads to a pretty extraordinary idea: "We suggest that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is constantly shaped by personal digital technology," Ghosh and his associates write.
What precisely this influence of digital technology means for us in other areas of our lives is a question for another day. The news might not be so good, Ghosh and associates say, noting proof linking extreme phone use with motor dysfunctions and pain.
The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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