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Smartphone usage shapes your brain’s sensory processing

Regular smartphone use could be altering the way your brain works, at least in some aspects.

That’s the conclusion of a new piece of research spotted by Digital Trends, a paper entitled “Use-Dependent Cortical Processing from Fingertips in Touchscreen Phone Users”.

Rather than focusing on whether smartphones are making us more intelligent, or more likely dumber due to our reliance on looking everything up instead of trying to remember things, the paper, published in Current Biology, considers the phone’s effect on somatosensory cortex in the brain. This is responsible for managing our sense of touch (and indeed temperature and pain, which are part of that), and it was proved to be altered for those who used a smartphone with a touchscreen.

The study included 37 people, 26 of whom were smartphone users, and the latter were found to have experienced stronger cortical activation, with the sensitivity of the fingers – and the thumb in particular – being greater, and proportionately larger when a shorter time had passed since an episode of “intense phone use” and electroencephalography (EEG) measurements being taken.

The report concludes: “Our results suggest that repetitive movements on the smooth touchscreen reshaped sensory processing from the hand and that the thumb representation was updated daily depending on its use. We propose that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by the use of personal digital technology.”

Darren Allan

Darran has over 25 years of experience in digital and magazine publishing as a writer and editor. He's also an author, having co-written a novel published by Little, Brown (Hachette UK). He currently writes news, features and buying guides for TechRadar, and occasionally other Future websites such as T3 or Creative Bloq and he's a copy editor for TechRadar Pro. Darrran has written for a large number of tech and gaming websites/magazines in the past, including Web User and ComputerActive. He has also worked at IDG Media, having been the Editor of PC Games Solutions and the Deputy Editor of PC Home.