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One of the most uplifting things to come out of recent science research is the verification of our brain’s plasticity.
We are no longer taught that the brain stops developing when we reach adulthood, and then slowly fizzles out as we age.
It is more motivating to realize the adult brain changes constantly as we interact with our environment, and scientists have been studying how responsive the brain is to daily activities by observing the effects of smartphone use on our gray matter.
With the advent of smartphones and touch screens, people began using their fingertips, particularly their thumbs, in new ways—and do it frequently. Because our digital history is easily tracked on smartphones, researchers can compare people’s brain responses with their digital phone use, and that is what scientists at the University of Zurich did.
“I think first we must appreciate how common personal digital devices are and how densely people use them,” said researcher Arko Ghosh. “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).”
Compared to people who continue to use older-model mobile phones, areas of the cortex linked with the thumb, index, and middle fingertips showed increased EEG activity in the study's smartphone users. Activity related to the thumb and index finger increased in direct proportion to the participant’s level of smartphone use.
Brain change because of smartphone use suggests that frequent, repetitive movements of the hand over a touch screen surface update the brain’s representation of a person’s fingertips. This implies that our brain’s sensory processing is being constantly altered by our use of personal digital technology.
While digital devices may have a stimulating influence on brain plasticity, the researchers also note that excessive use of them is already causing some people to experience motor problems, neck, shoulder, or arm pain. Still, knowing that our cortex is so responsive to the way we interact with our world is a positive.
This research might also makes us wonder what we are losing by putting down pen and pencil, and relying more on keyboards to express our thoughts. It can cause us to consider the importance of regularly working with our hands in a variety of ways, and to wonder what neural fireworks go off when we hold someone’s hand. At the very least, we are reminded how connected our inner and outer experiences are, and how the world we live in shapes us.
Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Vernon Chan / flickr creative commons
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