Scientists have discovered changes in the brain among smartphone users were similar to that previously noticed in the brains of talented violinists.
Experts, from the University of Zurich, say the thumb skills needed to type out messages on a touch sensitive smartphone could be changing the ways our brains work.
They said the changes in the brain among smartphone users were similar to that previously noticed in the brains of talented violinists.
It has already been shown that in violinists the area of the brain that controls fingers is larger than in other people’s brains.
The Swiss researchers said people who use their smartphones frequently to message friends and family are influencing cortical activity.
In experiments, they found that the more a smartphone had been used in the past 10 days, the greater the signal to the brain.
The connection was strongest in the area of the brain that controls thumb movement.
Study leader Arko Ghosh decided to investigate the impact that the finger dexterity of smartphone users has on the brain and discovered that the day-to-day plasticity of the human brain could be researched based on smartphone use.
He said: “Smartphones offer us an opportunity to understand how normal life shapes the brains of ordinary people.”
He studied how finger movements activated a particular area of the brain. The researchers measured brain activity in 37 right-handed people, of whom 26 were touchscreen smartphone users and 11 users of old mobile phones. More than 60 electrodes placed on the test subjects’ heads recorded this potential based on movements of the thumb, forefinger and middle finger. The results revealed that the cortical representation in touchscreen Smartphone users differed compared to people with conventional cellphones.
Dr Ghosh was also able to demonstrate that the frequency of smartphone usage influences brains activity. The more the smartphone had been used in the previous ten days, the greater the signal in the brain. This correlation was the strongest in the area that represented the thumb.
Dr Ghosh said: “At first glance, this discovery seems comparable to what happens in violinists.”
However, the researchers were able to make two distinctions.
Firstly, how long smartphone users have owned and used a device does not play a role. In the case of violinists, however, the activity in the brain depended on the age at which they started playing. Secondly, there is a connection between the activation in the brain and the most recent use of a smartphone, while there was no evidence of this for violinists in earlier studies.
Dr Ghosh added: “The digital technology we use on a daily basis shapes the sensory processing in our brains – and on a scale that surprised us.”
The findings are published in the science journal Current Biology.