Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: How Smart Phones are Affecting the Way We Touch and Feel Touch

How Smart Phones are Affecting the Way We Touch and Feel Touch

Global Content Strategist

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 screens.

Smartphone

 

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.

 

Brain

 

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.

 

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