Arko Ghosh’s study indicates that thumb typing on touchscreens alters your brain

Posted on Dec 28 2014 - 8:10pm by Sukanya
Dr. Arko Ghosh pioneers a conclusive study on how thumb typing on touchscreens can mold brain alertness and agility

Dr. Arko Ghosh pioneers a conclusive study on how thumb typing on touchscreens can mold brain alertness and agility

Tapping rapidly on a virtual keyboard is something almost all of you reading this will do on a daily basis. As for the small percentage of people out there who still profess your loyalty to the meek and modest qwerty phones, you’re either open enough to give touch phones a try or just too settled for good with the tangible keys.

Indeed, there is an undeniable comfort in feeling the bulge of each key right under the thumbs while we master the art of typing elaborate text messages without even having to look down at the keyboard so much. 

Enter touchscreens and somehow even feather-touch capacitative screens that guarantee fluid, smooth and consequently fast typing had us disoriented at first. Hell, even now, some of us would think a qwerty keypad attachment will come in handy especially when we find ourselves immersed in a heated chatroom discussion. Aside from the fact that Autocorrect can often be annoying in some of our smartphones, the prospect of tapping at a screen takes a lot of time to feel comfy and efficient. Especially if you are someone making a transition from an old model phone to the ritzy smartphone, you’d find adapting all the more tricky. Perhaps there’s a reason why it takes a little effort and brain muscle agility to achieve ease with the on-screen keyboard or at least that’s what a recent study seems to suggest. The research conducted by neuroscientist, Dr. Arko Ghosh of University of Zurich chose colleagues as the test subjects. 37 right-handed subjects, out of which 26 were smartphone users and the rest were basic phone owners took the thumb typing test which demonstrates that thumb typing is actually making smartphone owners, smart. 

Touchscreen versus Qwerty and  Basic Phones - Study on thumb typing and brain activity

Touchscreen versus Qwerty and Basic Phones – Study on thumb typing and brain activity

To study the transmission of information from the fingers to the brain in both sets of participants, the EEg or Electroencephalography instrument was used. Voltage changes in each of the volunteers’ brains were recorded which would later help in understanding the processing of information sent in primarily from the thumb, index finger and the middle finger. Patterns recorded by these fingers when subject to a qwerty keypad and to a virtual keyboard on the other hand were observed to hint at some distinct characteristics. The EEG graphs showed how when compared with ordinary phone users, smartphone users essentially had what is rather commonly construed as ”nimble fingers”. That is, their fingers shot enhanced electrical sparks to the brain whenever they were touched to the screen. In technical terms, the somatosensory cortex in our head – which is responsible for response to sensory stimuli – shows higher dexterity with greater usage of touch phones. Which can only mean that agility and swiftness is greater in this case than what would be observed when one is made to type on chunky buttons and press them down until they register our typing entry. Touchscreens inherently have the quality of buttery-smooth movements, forcing us to feel and give in to the way the screen gives a tactile response to feather touches. 

The study published in Current Biology, 23rd of December, seems to suggest that smartphone users may have increased acclimatization going on in their heads, thanks to the mental exercise that rapid thumb typing on touchscreen basically poses and this concept is somewhat similar to the way guitar players show a sort of calibration in their brain after mastering strumming techniques. 

So we can all agree that there is substantial proof that repetitive, active use of fingers on a touchscreen can shape our brains to be better capable of processing sensory stimulation simply because the human brain is like a potter’s wheel – always ready to learn and be molded by experience, upheld by the theory of plasticity.


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