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Smartphone Use Means More Brain Power at Your Fingertips

Dec 24, 2014 11:08 AM EST
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With touchscreen technology a huge part of today's society, you might think that starring at a screen all the time might be zapping your brain power. So you may be relieved to know that according to new research, smartphone use in the recent past translates into greater brain activity at your fingertips.

Specifically, it's when thumbs and other fingertips touch these kinds of screens that result in changes in the way your digits and brain work together.

"I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones," researcher Arko Ghosh, of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich in Switzerland, said in a press release. "I was also struck by how much of the inter-individual variations in the fingertip-associated brain signals could be simply explained by evaluating the smartphone logs."

And researchers not only found that smartphones are giving our thumbs superpowers, but also that because we have these devices at our fingertips on a daily basis, they are essentially keeping a record of our digital histories that can be studied.

"What this means for us neuroscientists is that the digital history we carry in our pockets has an enormous amount of information on how we use our fingertips (and more)," Ghosh explained.

Neuroscientists have long studied brain plasticity in musicians or video gamers, for example, who use their thumbs and other fingers all the time. But this study, reported in the journal Current Biology, is the first to look at regular, everyday people.

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain's response to mechanical touch on the thumb, index, and middle fingertips of smartphone users, in comparison to those that still used old school, non-touchscreen devices. They found that electrical activity in the brains of smartphone users was enhanced when all three fingertips were touched.

In fact, their brain activity increased the more they used their smartphones. That's because, researchers say, the brain is updated daily with a representation of the fingertips.

"We propose that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by personal digital technology," Ghosh and his colleagues wrote.

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