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Neuroscientists just found that texting alters your brainwaves, but they can’t explain why

Does using a smartphone fundamentally alter the way that your brain works? While the jury is still out on the long-term effects of heavy cellphone use, a group of researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently discovered that text messaging elicits a change in the regular rhythm of brain waves, completely different than the waveforms created by any other activity.

“The big deal with discovering this ‘texting rhythm’ is that the number of new brain waves that are identified on EEG (electroencephalogram) are extremely rare at this point in time,” Dr. William Tatum, the lead author of the study, tells Digital Trends.

Related: Mayo Clinic’s sponge-like polymer could revolutionize the way doctors treat spinal cord injuries

Dr. Tatum says that the new brain waves were discovered by accident when analyzing the day-to-day cortical rhythms of people suffering from epilepsy. This discovery triggered an investigation into the neurological effects of smartphone use, which ultimately grew to include nearly 130 participants over a period of 16 months. Only around one in five participants demonstrated the “texting rhythm,” although it didn’t appear to conform to any single gender, ethnicity or age group. Nor is it known exactly what aspect of texting prompts the effect: since text messaging includes a variety of different skills, such as finger dexterity, formulating succinct communications and more.

Whatever the reason, however, it has the makings of a significant advance. “This is one of the first reports of a technology-brain interface which have been shown to exist,” Dr. Tatum continues. “While it’s still preliminary information right now, it may be remarkable in the effects it could have on the gaming industry and issues of brain-computer interfacing.”

So does this mean we should put down our smartphones — concerned that they’re having a detrimental impact on our brains — or does it suggest that texting activates parts of our brain we don’t yet use to their full potential? “The question we’re trying to answer right now is whether this is a destructive process or an active process,” Dr. Tatum says. “We think it’s probably an active process through an entrainment of normal cortical rhythms. What’s strange is that it appears to be a destructive frequency that’s more typically identified in people that have a slowing of their brain waves.”

So a little from Column A, a little from Column B, then? But hopefully more of the latter.