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Smartphone use makes the brain more sensitive to touch

"I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones," said Arko Ghosh.

By Brooks Hays
Smartphone use makes the brain more sensitive to touch
Smartphones are changing our brains -- specifically the connection between brain and them. File Photo by UPI/John Angelillo. | License Photo

ZURICH, Switzerland, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- New research suggests the incessant touching of our smartphones is making our thumbs extra sensitive.

The human sciences are only just starting to catch up to technology, only scratching the surface on the ways smartphone use and Internet addiction affect our relationships -- how we interact, behave, raise our children. Those findings are mostly in their infancy.

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A new neuroscience study, on the other hand, seems to offer a more definitive conclusion -- our smartphone use is changing our brain -- specifically the connection between our thumb tips and brain.

Researchers the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, monitored the brains of study participants mechanically touching their thumb, index and middle fingertips. Those who regularly used smartphones (compared to those who still use older mobile phones) showed greater brain activity in areas connected to touch when their fingers were stimulated.

Because smartphones have battery usage logs that suggest how much and when a phone has been used, researchers were able to tell which participants were most active on their smartphones over time. The more active smartphone-users showed a heightened neurological response to the three-finger touching.

"I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones," lead researcher Arko Ghosh said in a press release. "I was also struck by how much of the inter-individual variations in the fingertip-associated brain signals could be simply explained by evaluating the smartphone logs."

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The study was published this week in the journal Current Biology.

"What this means for us neuroscientists," Ghosh said of the way technology affects research, "is that the digital history we carry in our pockets has an enormous amount of information on how we use our fingertips -- and more."

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