For many people, it has become second nature: typing text messages, scrolling web pages, and checking email on a smartphone.
It could actually be changing the way the human brain and thumbs interact. That’s the key finding of researchers from the university of Zurich, in Switzerland.
The research compared the cortical brain activity in touchscreen smartphone users to that of people using old-fashioned cellphones with hard keypads.
Over 60 electrodes on each patient’s scalp recorded how their brain processed touch from their thumb, forefinger and middle finger.
The researchers found that individuals using touchscreen smartphones demonstrated more brain activity when their thumbs and fingertips were touched than those who used old-fashioned cell phones.
“Smartphone users have a brain that processes touch differently than people who don’t use touchscreen smartphones,” said Dr Arko Ghosh, who led the research at the University of Zurich.
“If you dig a bit deeper into the data, what you essentially see is that the most recent usage that people accumulated on their smartphones is reflected on the way that brains processed information from their fingertips,” he added.
According to the researchers, many of the differences between one person and the next can be explained by how much they were using their phone in the previous days.
The full findings of the study were published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
Researchers see smartphone use as an ideal way to explore the everyday plasticity of the human brain. With nearly two billion smartphone users world-wide, and ever more detailed phone logs, they have plenty of data handy to better understand our brain – and just how much it is changing.