The mindless movements you make on your smartphone could actually be impacting your mind, a new study shows.
Researchers found smartphone usage shapes our sensorimotor cortex, an area of the brain that’s activated by finger movements. It’s similar to how violinists develop this brain region as they play.
Researchers from the University of Zurich and the University of Fribourg used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the cortical brain activity in 26 touchscreen smartphone users and 11 users of regular cellphones.
The scientists placed electrodes on the test subject’s heads while they moved their thumb, forefinger and middle finger. The result? There was different brain activity in the smartphone users compared with people using regular cellphones.
“(The) digital footprints from our day-to-day activities can be used to understand how the brain operates,” Arko Ghosh from the Institute of Neuroinformatics of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich told the Star via email.
Ghosh and his team demonstrated that the frequency of smartphone usage influences this brain activity — the more times the touchscreen phone had been used in the previous days, the greater the signal in the brain, a statement from the researchers noted.
The correlation was strongest in the area that represented the thumb, the study found.
The length of time smartphone users have owned and used a device does not play a role in this brain activity. It’s a different case with violinists, where the brain activity is tied to the age at which they start playing.
Ghosh said it’s too early to say whether these brain changes observed from smartphone usage are good or bad.
“I think people should be comforted by the fact that neuroscientists can now gain a deeper understanding on how our daily lives shape the brain,” he added.
“And this has a range of implications from designing our daily interactions to unravelling how the mechanisms of plasticity may fail in brain disorders.”