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Sending Text Messages Triggers a Unique, Never-Before-Seen Brain Rhythm

A biological reason to refrain from texting and driving.

| 2 min read

A biological reason to refrain from texting and driving.

Reporting their new research in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, a team of scientists led by the Mayo Clinic’s William Tatum found that sending text messages can change the rhythm of brain waves.

To come to this finding, the researchers recruited 129 patients and monitored their brain waves over a 16-month period with electroencephalograms (EEGs) and video footage.

While being monitored, the patients performed various activities like text messaging, finger tapping, and audio cellular use, as well as tests of attention and cognitive function. The researchers observed a unique “texting rhythm” (or TR) in about 1 in 5 patients (27 of the 129), and only text messaging produce the newly observed brain rhythm.

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Interestingly, the rhythm was different than any previously described brain rhythm, the researchers say.

You can see a 22-year-old woman’s texting rhythms outlined in the blue boxes in the image below.

EEG of the texting rhythm

Credit: ©Elesevier. The blue boses show the texting rhythm present in a 22-year-old patient who is texting with her right hand.

"We believe this new rhythm is an objective metric of the brain's ability to process non-verbal information during use of electronic devices and that it is heavily connected to a widely distributed network augmented by attention or emotion," Dr. Tatum said in a press release.

Of the 129 patients, 53 had epileptic seizures (ES), 74 had nonepileptic seizures (NES), and 2 were dual-diagnosed. However, the researchers say that neither epilepsy type, age, nor gender were correlated with the texting rhythm.

Compared to other forms of mental stimulation, the researchers say the texting brain rhythm could be caused by the “combination of mental activity with motor and auditory-verbal neurobiological activity.”

“We hypothesize that a TR likely reflects a combination of increased attention coupled with a heightened affective influence while sending smartphone text messages,” the researchers wrote.

The discovery could have implications for gaming and brain-computer interfacing, the researchers say, but importantly, the findings add evidence for the case against texting and driving.

"There is now a biological reason why people shouldn't text and drive — texting can change brain waves," Dr. Tatum said.

In the study, the researchers conclude that their findings support the 44 states in the US where texting and driving is banned.

“Our research would support this view because of the clinical neurophysiological alteration observed during texting that exists beyond simple distraction,” they write, “and supports the adoption of legislation to ban texting and driving.”

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