A recent study reveals that subtle, recurring finger movements which people use on the touch screen of their smartphone can alter the brain’s sensory-processing area. Using smartphones will not make a person smarter but it does affect strongly the part of the brain which processes touch.
A recent study which was published online on Tuesday in the Journal Current biology reveals that typing with your thumb and swiping with your index and middle fingers may be training the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which processes touch. Brain activity in the somatosensory cortex became very pronounced when the user did a lot of typing and swiping and the signal strength depended upon how recently such digital activity occurred.
The findings may not be described as revolutionary but it puts forth a method to track how the brain adapts during daily activity, said Arko Ghosh, University of Zurich neuroscientist and lead investigator of the study.
Ghosh said, “People should be comforted by the fact that our daily lives are interesting to neuroscientists. We have always studied pianists or athletes and such, but smartphones are going to allow us to start linking our digital footprints to brain activity.”
The study involved downloading of 10 days of activity from 26 touch screen users as well as 11 users who used the older cell phones. All the users were right handed. The user’s thumb was stimulated 1,250 times while the subject’s brain activity was monitored with a EEG or electroencephalogram. The EEG measures voltage changes in the brain.
The results of the study were as follows- touch-related cortical activities among the smartphone users were higher than those subjects who did not use touch-screen technology. Also the strength of the changes were linked to how much the screens were used and how lately they were swiped. The strongest response was shown by the thumb but there were considerable effects on the index and middle fingers, according to the study.
Ghosh said, “The closer they were to their peak usage, in time, the more brain activity they had associated with their thumb.”
For a very long time neuroscientists were trying to measure the way the brain adapts to experience. However the studies were more focused on longer-term changes, known as plasticity and did not track the small details
Ghosh said, “We really can now start tackling questions about the implementation of plasticity through our daily life. We can start extracting which factors matter for the brain, which don’t, what are the drivers of plasticity and what are not? To do this, connecting our digital footprints to brain activity is what we need to do.”