This Is Your Brain on a Smartphone

Improvements in our technology have not only changed our routines, access to information and daily lives, it may also be changing the way that our brains are processing it all.

Scientists are using smartphones to learn more about how our brains change and adapt to our environment and routines. It turns out that all that repetitive finger motion is actually changing the sensory processing area in our brains. The somatosensory cortex essentially holds a map to our entire bodies. This “map” receives signals from receptors on our skin and other organs. If a certain area of the body is used more frequently, those areas can become more sensitive.

In cellphone use the finger tips become more sensitive and specifically the finger tips that we tend to use most, such as the index or middle fingers. The tip of the thumb is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in day-to-day phone use. The shorter the time elapsed from an episode of intense phone use, the larger the change in that area of the brain.

Electroencephalography (EEG) was used by scientists in studies to measure the activity in the brain in response to touch on each individual finger. Of the 37 people participating in the study, 26 utilized touch screen smartphones and 11 used old-fashioned cellphones. The study resulted in greater brain activity in the areas of the brain associated with fingertips in regard to those using smartphones as opposed to the older non-touchscreen phones.

The findings suggest that those repeated movements on the touchscreen changed our sensory processing from the hand. The thumb was modified daily contengent on its use. Scientists now believe that our brains are being reshaped continuously by our use of this type of technology.