Health and Medicine Neuroscience

Smartphone Texting Ignites a New Type of Brain Rhythm

brain text

According to a new study, sending text messages on a smartphone can change the rhythm of brain waves. The complete publication can be found in Epilepsy & Brain Behavior journal. What’s so interesting about text messaging is that so many of us use the technology but little is actually known about the neurological effects this sort of phone use has on us.

A team, led by Mayo Clinic researcher William Tatum, wanted to know more about how the brain works during textual communication while using smartphones. The team analyzed data from 129 patients. Their brain waves were monitored over a period of 16 months through electroencephalograms (or 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 about 1 in 5 of the patients who were using their smartphone to text message while having their brain waves monitored.

Researchers asked patients to perform activities including message texting, finger tapping and audio cellular telephone use as well as testing their attention and cognitive function. Only when they were texting did the newly observed brain rhythm appear which was different than any previously described brain rhythm.

text messaging
According to a new study text messaging produced a newly noticed brain rhythm, which was distinctive to any previously described brain rhythm. The blue boxes show the texting rhythm observed in a 22-year old patient who is texting with her right hand.
(Image courtesy of Elsevier)

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. There was not found to be any correlation between the presence of a texting rhythm and the patients’ demographic information such as age, gender, epilepsy type, presence of brain lesion on MRI or ictal EEG.

Dr. Tatum says they 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.

The texting rhythm was not just found in those who used smartphones but also found in iPad users as well. 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 a higher level of concentration.

These findings may have significant implications for brain-computer interfacing, gaming and perhaps even driving. Dr. Tatum says there is definitely now a biological reason why people shouldn’t text and drive because texting can literally change brain waves. There is still a lot more research needed, but we have now begun to unravel the responses generated by the brain when it interfaces with computerized devices.