A whole new group of test persons is available for investigating neuroplasticity. Chances are you are one of them. Arko Ghosh and colleagues have demonstrated that smartphone users show interesting changes of cortical sensory representations in their brains. They have published their results in the January issue of Current Biology.
Test persons using a smart phone were compared to those with old-technology phones with push buttons. By using electroencephalography (EEG), Ghosh and colleagues measured the cortical potentials produced by their test persons in response to mechanical stimulation of the thumb, index and middle fingertips. All smart phone users showed higher activities in the cortical regions associated with fingertips compared to nonusers upon tactile stimulation of the fingertips.
Especially the repetitive swiping of the thumb over the touch screen seems to reshape sensory processing from the hand. Even though touch screen users relied mostly on their thumb to interact with the screen, the cortical activities associated with all three fingertips, thumb, index and middle finger, were enhanced.
Continuous updates of cortical thumb representation
Interestingly, the cortical activities induced by thumb stimulation were directly correlated with the intensity of use of the smartphone in the 10 days previous to the EEG measurement. The thumb representation therefore seems to be updated continuously depending on its use. The authors therefore propose that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by the use of personal digital technology.
Use-dependent cortical processing from fingertips in touchscreen phone users. Gindrat AD, Chytiris M, Balerna M, Rouiller EM, Ghosh A. Curr Biol. 2015 Jan 5;25(1):109-16. PubMed Abstract
See also UZH Media Release (German)