There is a specter haunting humanity, and that specter is phubbing. Phubbing is the act of staring at a smartphone to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. An extension of phubbing is cell phone distracted walking. The National Safety Council notes cell phone distracted walking accounted for over 11,000 injuries between 2000 and 2011.
This technology-induced zombification is more than just tunnel vision and an innate desire to stay connected at all times. Using cell phones actually alters the rhythms of users’ brains, for better or worse.
Testing the effects of texting on the brain
Dr. William O. Tatum and Dr. Benedetto of Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Kirsten H. Yelvington of the University of Florida at Gainesville conducted a study on how brainwaves react during texting. The researchers studied 129 patients, 93 of whom were female, over 16 months. Of the total, 53 subjects had a history of epileptic seizures, 74 had a history of nonepileptic seizures and two had dual diagnosis.
The subjects were evaluated as they underwent video-EEG monitoring. The EEGs were applied topically to the scalp. The study objective was to compare the texting rhythm (TR) that occurs during texting with various motor activities (thumb and forefinger movements), cognitive testing, eye movements and speech and language tasks in the subject group.
Based on the variances among the test cohort, the researchers found that cortical processing is “uniquely” activated by the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs).
Scientists assign Greek letters to brainwaves. With respect to this study, they looked at theta brainwave activity. EEG-observed theta waveform activity is described as paroxysmal, meaning it comes in paroxysms or bursts of activity. The researchers compared the theta activity produced by a PED to the other motor activities listed above and determined what they were seeing was a new type of TR. This came as a surprise to the researchers because the aim of the study was to compare subjects with and without epilepsy to see if a TR relative to cognition, language and motor activities was present in both subject groups.
In the Conclusions section of the study, the authors write that “the task-specific, active, time-locked features observed with the TR reflect neural coding for nonauditory complex communication. Whether the TR reflects a benign form of midline frontal theta or a biomarker with application in industry or health care will merit further investigation.”
In layman’s terms, PED fixation – task-specific, active, time-locked features – or the zombie walk individuals succumb to when transfixed by their smartphones may be the result of this unique TR. An optimist will read the last sentence in the Conclusions section as promising: This discovery could lead to greater insight into the workings of the human mind, possibly possessing the potential to unlock the mysteries of epilepsy. A cynic will read “application in industry” as a harbinger of the shape of things to come: technology that targets specific brain activity.
This future shock may never come to fruition. For the here and now, White River Academy will continue to educate young men with behavioral health issues and mold them into responsible adults. We start this at intake, when we conduct a thorough psychological evaluation of your son. We treat the overt behavior and the underlying causes that fuel it. Contact our admissions staff to learn more about our program and how we can improve the life of your child.
About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec.