The cost of smartphones: a shrunken brain
A close friend of mine just broke her hand. She said it happened when she was trying to save her iPhone. I have not had a near-death experience trying to rescue my iPhone but I have observed that when I can’t find it in my bag, I get really get nervous and near panicky. Smart phones have become so useful in how we operate in our lives that the risk of losing them is akin to losing limb and identity. Yes, many of us have become dependent on our smartphones and it has changed our behavior but what has this dependence done to the structure of our brains?
The sort-of-good news is, no conclusive study has yet shown the between link radio frequency radiation from smartphones and brain tumors in humans. A study has shown this link in rats but unless you know of a rat who uses smartphones, rats are safe from this kind of danger in their natural environment. But we all know now that the brain is plastic – that is, it is shaped by experience. With the kind of mobile phone dependence (MPD) that many humans have grown, what effects does it have on the structure of our brains?
First of all, how do you know if you have an abnormal relationship with your phone? How do you know if you are addicted to it?
There has been a review of this condition and it includes: using your phones in situations when it is clearly dangerous to do so (e.g. while walking or driving), preferring to use the phone over personal contact to connect with others resulting in negative consequences to personal/social relationships, looking at your phone every few seconds/minutes, disturbance of sleep, feelings of irritability when separated from your phone, anxiety and loneliness when you don’t get messages.
Among these symptoms too are “textaphrenia” and “ringxiety” – the imagined feeling of having received a text message or call that makes you check your phone all the time, and “textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages.
Now that we can tell if we are addicted to our phones, now out too is a study that looked at the structure of the brains of college students who are mobile phone dependent and they found some things that are causes for concern.
One thing they found is that MPD shrinks your brain. It does this not just in specific parts but wholesale in both your gray and white matter.
The gray matter in your brain that have shrunken from MPD includes the areas that are associated with advanced “thinking” functions such as: control, conscious decision-making, reasoning, working memory, attentional control and even modeling and predicting the behavior of others. This may not be good news because scientists also found that if they used injury or damage to these areas as reference, it shows that it can cement or even worsen the addicted behavior.
The second thing they found was that white matter volume also decreased, particularly in the fibers around brain parts that have connections for working memory, long-term memory and cognitive control. Other studies show that addiction to other things (alcohol, drugs) affect these same brain parts, further solidifying the case that MPD is a real addiction.
The third finding pointed to impulsive people being more susceptible to MPD. Impulsivity is when one does things in haste, taking unnecessary risks that could end up in harmful situations. They found that impulsivity is a very strong predictor of MPD. It also cited a study that found that “impulsivity” was the only personality trait (among 12 traits that were studied) that is linked to alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, gambling and online gaming addictions.
And who are the people who are more likely to develop addiction to their cell phones? Research found that young people, the same age group that figures in more car accidents are a lot more susceptible to this kind of addiction. We also know that this is the same age group that is vulnerable to other kinds of addiction. The same study also found that the more extroverted you are, the more likely you are to take risks, leaving you more vulnerable to dangerous phone use.
Smartphones have unleashed a whole new way of being alive for us. Indeed, it has become another organ through which we can sense and engage in the world. But the laws of the universe remain the same, even with the powerful forces that we have cultivated to control our world. There is still a price for everything and apparently, the cost of smartphones includes not just the hefty tag price but also a shrunken brain. We have smartened our phones and as a result, “dummified” our brains.– Rappler.com