Texting touches nearly every area of our lives these days, taking an increasingly large role in our social, personal, professional, and romantic lives. With its great impact, and our near obsession with our cell phones, it doesn't seem far-fetched that our texting habit is affecting our brains. But could it be true?
The idea that texting is changing our brains is not unpopular, and there seems to be some merit to it. Research by neurologist William Tatum at the Mayo Clinic found that, after examining 16 months of EEGs from 129 participants doing multiple activities, including texting, many participants exhibited unique brain waves only when they were texting. Tatum posits that these patterns reflect the neural processes underlying non-verbal language processing, and perhaps a special, heightened level of concentration that our small screens may be demanding from us during this type of processing.
This discovery highlights the possibility that, even if texting isn't exactly changing the way we think, it certainly seems to demand a new sort of neural legwork. It also emphasizes the high level of attention that texting demands from us, reminding us, as Tatum warns, of the serious danger of combining texting with activities like driving.
Frequent text messaging can also change activity in the brain's sensorimotor cortex. A 2014 study out of Switzerland demonstrates that people who text more frequently exhibit increased activity in parts of the brain's sensorimotor cortex associated with the thumbs and index fingers. This phenomenon is similar to the increase in brain space dedicated to the fingers in violin players. Who knew the repetitive finger motions of texting could have such a similar and notable impact on our brains?
Our SMS addiction may also be affecting our hormonal cycles. Many of us have been advised to put away blue screens at least half an hour before bed, and for good reason. The blue light that radiates from our personal devices suppresses release of the sleep hormone melatonin from the brain's pineal gland, moreso than any other light we may be exposed to, and creates a delay in our circadian rhythm. This means that our biological clock is set to a later schedule when we text at night, delaying sleep. Our propensity to text from bed or otherwise stay up late on our devices is affecting the hormonal cycles that control our body's natural clocks.
Many of the worries people voice about frequent texting and cell phone use causing behavioral changes in children are also issues of neuroplasticity. In children, whose brains are highly dynamic, text messaging might instill long-term changes, shaping the way they react to and approach stimuli by shaping a child's neural wiring. When children and adolescents text frequently, they become accustomed to diverting their attention from whatever is at hand rapidly and often. Such texting habits can therefore breed attentional deficits that can become hardwired in a young person's brain through frequent and regular attentional shifts.
Children who text with predictive text software may also face specific neural rewiring that can affect their behavior. When children become accustomed to typing only a few letters and having their phones then output the desired word, they become conditioned to expect the legwork and editing of language, and even other things they do, to be done for them. These children may tend towards speed over accuracy, and in general act more rapidly and impulsively. While these are behavioral consequences of texting, they are also fundamentally physical issues; just about anything a child is regularly exposed to that conditions their behavior is likely making an impact on their highly plastic brains.
While not all these potential effects of texting are detrimental to one's health, it is interesting to know how all the texting we do affects our very own neural makeup. And, where texting does pose risks, we can use our knowledge as a starting point to make changes that could benefit our health and wellness.
About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage,
Inc. a software company for communication software solutions.