Opposable thumbs: a pretty cool appendage that has served humanity well since our earliest tool-making days, and one that, over the last 15 years or so, has been given a new kind of workout by the advent of texting. There’s probably never been a batch of humans, in fact, whose thumbs have been used for so many precise movements. And, if a new study is any indication, all this texting is leaving an imprint on our brains.
In research published in Current Biology (I’ll add a link to the study itself when it’s available), a team led by Arko Ghosh of the University of Zurich took a bunch of texters and hooked them up to EEG machines to measure the activity in their sensorimotor cortices. The cool thing about this particular region of the brain is that specific parts of it are connected to specific body parts, and its activity reflects how intensely those body parts are used. Among violinists, for example, the parts of the sensorimotor cortex connected to the fingers they use to play their instruments are larger than they are among us non-violinists.
So how did this apply to texters? As the press release notes, “The more the Smartphone had been used in the previous ten days, the greater the signal in the brain. This correlation was the strongest … in the area that represented the thumb.” We are rapidly hurtling toward a future in which people text at a thousand words a minute and never leave their homes, and the sensorimotor cortex is nothing but a giant thumb-controlling device.