I recently wrote about how our love for gadgets and
technology affects our posture. This time, let's take a look at
how touch screen items alter our perception of touch and ultimately
mold our brains.
Many people cannot imagine life without a smart phone or other
handheld device. We use them for extended periods every day in both
our personal lives and for our jobs. I certainly find them
extremely helpful in staying organized and keeping in touch with my
family and friends. Gadgets have indeed become an extension of our
hands, and as such, our thumbs have developed a new set of moves to
navigate the screens.
Yet, it is important to understand that this technical extension
also has its implications (not necessarily negative ones): our
brains are being re-shaped by our widespread use of touch
The brain is the center for processing sensations, and one of
these sensations is the ability to use touch to affect and assess
the environment. We need our fingers-our thumbs in particular-to
make our smart phones do what we need them to. And because we are
spending hours a day touching the screens, studies suggest that
touchscreen use is causing our brains to reorganize and to host an
enhanced sensory representation of our thumbs.
It is not news that the brain is constantly changing as a result
of life experiences and behavioral patterns. Thus, it is not a
surprise that our sense of touch would affect how our brain
processes it. Just think of, for example, a musician's brain: in
violinists, the brain area
representing the fingers that play the instrument is larger
than in non-musicians.
The body's surface has sensory receptors that are connected to a
region of the brain called the
somatosensory cortex. Repeated finger motions, as studies are
starting to document, result in changes in this sensory-processing
area of the brain. Thus, we can conclude that the repeated motion
of our fingers physically alters the brain and can make
a certain area get larger.
Is this good? Is this bad? Touch screens are certainly not going
away. More and more gadgets are touch-based. As a health
communicator, I will be looking for more research and evidence on
what is actually happening to our brains. And I will also make an
effort to put the smart phone down and to let my fingers rest from
time to time.