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Text messaging creates unique brain waves

Thu 30 Jun 2016

A recent study by researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that sending text messages on a smartphone creates a brand-new brain rhythm, different from any that have been previously described. This brainwave was found only in subjects who were text messaging, not in those performing other, similar tasks.

The study covered 129 patients over 16 months, who completed tasks on smartphones and tablets including texting, finger tapping and audio telephone use, as well as tests related to user attention and cognitive functions while their brain waves were monitored on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

The unique ‘texting rhythm’ was found in 1 of 5 subjects who were texting, and was repeatable for those subjects: it occurred each time they texted. The texting rhythm did not show up in the EEG results of any subjects performing other tasks.

Dr. William Tatum, professor of neurology and director of the epilepsy monitoring unit at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, said, “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.”

He added that 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.”

The fact that the texting rhythm was unique to the act of texting, rather than the other tasks measured by the study, could be due to the fact that texting combines mental activity with motor activity, while at the same time engaging the brain’s auditory-verbal centers in a way that other tasks do not.

Researchers postulate that because the unique brain wave was generated while the user was on a handheld device – a smartphone, or in a few cases, an iPad, the wave may also be affected by the higher levels of concentration required to use the small screen on a handheld device. The study found no correlation between the texting rhythm and patient demographic information.

While further research is required to assess the long-term effects of texting, researchers believe that the discovery of a unique brain wave will have consequences in the fields of gaming, human computer interaction, and driving. As Dr. Tatum commented, “There is now a biological reason why people shouldn’t text and drive — texting can change brain waves.”


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