What do text messages do to our brain?

New neurological evidence highlighting the dangers of texting while driving has recently been published in Epilepsy & Behavior. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and the University of Florida have revealed a new dynamic in the brain that they’ve termed “texting rhythm.” What exactly is our brain doing as we’re writing an SMS?

To study how writing text messages impacts brain dynamics, the team of neuropathologists evaluated data from 129 patients (53 of whom suffered from seizures). The participants were monitored over a period of 16 months and were invited to perform different types of activities: sending SMS, performing cognitive, attention, and articulation exercises. EEGs were carried out on regular intervals. The researchers were then able to compare the brain activity of the participants.

In 20% of the cases (including in epileptic patients), they discovered that writing an SMS created a new model of brain wave intensity; it’s what they call “texting rhythm.” The rhythm is triggered the moment we grab the phone (or tablet) and begin texting. Unknown until now, this particular rhythm cannot be seen during other activities such as voice calls, speech or movement. No association was observed with age, sex, laterality, or type of epilepsy.

According to Dr. William Tatum, the study’s lead author, this new activation circuit reflects the combination of a high level of concentration (perhaps linked to the small screen size) and emotion. Though the team of researchers wasn’t able to explain why this phenomenon is only observed in one out of five people, they do believe the results represent a true "biological reason" for banning texting while driving. But texting while walking carries its own risks…
Source: Tatum WO, DiCiaccio B, Yelvington KH. Cortical processing during smartphone text messaging. Epilepsy & Behavior. April 2016.


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