Pauline Anderson

December 08, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — Researchers have identified a unique brainwave that's initiated by text messaging.

Technologists first identified the unusual rhythm in patients with paroxysmal neurologic events undergoing video electroencephalographic (EEG) monitoring. Researchers have now studied 129 such patients from two centers: Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida, and Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois. Overall, about 24% of those tested had this unique rhythm while texting.

"We are seeing it more and more frequently since smartphones are now a ubiquitous part of our society," William Tatum IV, DO, professor, neurology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, told a press briefing during the American Epilepsy Society (AES) 69th Annual Meeting.

Dr Tatum and colleagues describe this new texting rhythm as a "reproducible, stimulus-evoked, time-locked, generalized frontocentral monomorphic burst of 5- to 6-Hz theta consistently induced by active text messaging."


So not only is this waveform location specific, it's also "intrinsically locked to an electronic stimulus," said Dr Tatum. In the new study, the waveform was highly specific to active texting (P < .0001).

It was not seen during voice calls or nontext activities involving cognition, speech/language, or movement in one arm of the study.

Although the rhythm occurred most often with smartphone use, it was also linked to tablet use in a few patients and to a laptop in one, said Dr Tatum. He added that it's independent of other contexts, such as eye movement, screen size, and coloration.

The waveform appeared to be increased in patients with epilepsy in one cohort (P = .03) and generalized seizures in the other cohort (P = .025).

Factors such as age, sex, diagnosis, and epilepsy class didn't seem to be related to the rhythm in terms of its cause, said Dr Tatum.

Researchers don't believe it's restricted to people with seizures. In a larger number of people tested since the study, "we have not found an association with a pathological condition, so we think it might happen in 'normal 'subjects as well," said Dr Tatum.

He doesn't know exactly what to make of the new waveform but is convinced it's significant.

"It probably reflects some sort of brain reward system," he said, adding that there may be "an emotional context of interacting with somebody in a nonverbal auditory communication."

The rhythm may be a biomarker for a specific characteristic that could be of interest to industry. For example, said Dr Tatum, someone with this brainwave pattern may be able to "uniquely" navigate through a gaming console or perform a complex activity, such as aiming and shooting a rifle.

But the rhythm could interfere with activities that require full attention, such as driving, he said.

"We are told, and many laws say, that you should not text and drive; we now have an organic reason to say that. The brain is changing during the time of text messaging even beyond the area of simple distraction."

Identifying a new EEG waveform is unusual, so uncovering this texting-specific biorhythm is "an exciting area," according to Dr Tatum.

The study was small and didn't control for drugs or caffeine. "There's still a lot more we need to learn," said Dr Tatum, who would like to see his work reproduced "in and outside the US."

American Epilepsy Society (AES) 69th Annual Meeting. Abstract 3.114.


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