Summary: According to researchers, sending text messages on a smartphone can alter the rhythm of brain waves.
Sending text messages on a smartphone can change the rhythm of brain waves, according to a new study published in Epilepsy & Behavior.
People communicate increasingly via text messaging, though little is known on the neurological effects of smartphone use. To find out more about how our brains work during textual communication using smartphones, a team led by Mayo Clinic researcher William Tatum analyzed data from 129 patients. Their brain waves were monitored over a period of 16 months through electroencephalograms (EEGs) combined with video footage.
Dr. Tatum, professor of neurology and director of the epilepsy monitoring unit and epilepsy center at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida found a unique ‘texting rhythm’ in approximately 1 in 5 patients who were using their smartphone to text message while having their brain waves monitored.
The researchers asked patients to perform activities such as message texting, finger tapping and audio cellular telephone use in addition to tests of attention and cognitive function. Only text messaging produced the newly observed brain rhythm, which was different than any previously described brain rhythm.
The blue boxes show the texting rhythm present in a 22-year old patient who is texting with her right hand.
The unicity of the texting rhythm compared to other forms of mental stimulation could be caused by the combination of mental activity with motor and auditory-verbal neurological activity.
No correlation was between the presence of a texting rhythm and the patients’ demographic information, including age, gender, epilepsy type, presence of a brain lesion on MRI, or ictal EEG.
“We believe this new rhythm is an objective metric of the brain’s ability to process non-verbal information during use of electronic devices and that it is heavily connected to a widely distributed network augmented by attention or emotion,” Dr. Tatum commented.
Next to smartphones, the texting rhythm was also found in iPad users. The researchers hypothesized that the presence of a different brain wave rhythm while using mobile, handheld devices might be caused by their smaller screens, which require more concentration.
This finding could have significant implications for brain-computer interfacing, gaming, and, perhaps most importantly, driving, Dr. Tatum noted: “There is now a biological reason why people shouldn’t text and drive – texting can change brain waves,” he said. While “there is still a lot more research needed, we have begun to unravel the responses generated by the brain when it interfaces with computerized devices.”
Source: Sarah Waterhouse – Elsevier
Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Elsevier.
Original Research: Abstract for “Cortical processing during smartphone text messaging” by William O. Tatum, Benedetto DiCiaccio and Kirsten H. Yelvington in Epilepsy & Behavior. Published online Spril 28 2016 doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.03.018
Cortical processing during smartphone text messaging
The objective of this study was to report the EEG features of text messaging using smartphones.
One hundred twenty-nine patients were prospectively evaluated during video-EEG monitoring (VEM) over 16 months. A reproducible texting rhythm (TR) present during active text messaging with a smartphone was compared with passive and forced audio telephone use, thumb/finger movements, cognitive testing/calculation, scanning eye movements, and speech/language tasks in patients with and without epilepsy. Statistical significance was set at p < 0.05. Results
Twenty-seven patients with a TR were identified from a cohort of 129 (93 female, mean age: 36; range: 18–71) unselected VEM patients. Fifty-three out of 129 patients had epileptic seizures (ES), 74/129 had nonepileptic seizures (NES), and 2/129 were dual-diagnosed. A reproducible TR was present in 27/129 (20.9%) specific to text messaging (p < 0.0001) and present in 28% of patients with ES and 16% of patients with NES (p = NS). The TR was absent during independent tasks and audio cellular telephone use (p < 0.0001). Age, gender, epilepsy type, MRI results, and EEG lateralization in patients with focal seizures were unrelated (p = NS).
Our results suggest that the TR on scalp EEG represents a novel technology-specific neurophysiological alteration of brain networks. We propose that cortical processing in the contemporary brain is uniquely activated by the use of PEDs.
These findings have practical implications that could impact industry and research in nonverbal communication.
“Cortical processing during smartphone text messaging” by William O. Tatum, Benedetto DiCiaccio and Kirsten H. Yelvington in Epilepsy & Behavior. Published online Spril 28 2016 doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.03.018