Background Smartphone usage is now integral to human behavior. Recent studies associate extensive usage with a range of debilitating effects. We sought to determine whether excessive usage is accompanied by measurable neural, cognitive and behavioral changes. Method Subjects lacking previous experience with smartphones (n = 35) were compared to a matched group of heavy smartphone users (n = 16) on numerous behavioral and electrophysiological measures recorded using electroencephalogram (EEG) combined with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the right prefrontal cortex (rPFC). In a second longitudinal intervention, a randomly selected sample of the original non-users received smartphones for 3 months while the others served as controls. All measurements were repeated following this intervention. Results Heavy users showed increased impulsivity, hyperactivity and negative social concern. We also found reduced early TMS evoked potentials in the rPFC of this group, which correlated with severity of self-reported inattention problems. Heavy users also obtained lower accuracy rates than nonusers in a numerical processing. Critically, the second part of the experiment revealed that both the numerical processing and social cognition domains are causally linked to smartphone usage. Conclusion Heavy usage was found to be associated with impaired attention, reduced numerical processing capacity, changes in social cognition, and reduced right prefrontal cortex (rPFC) excitability. Memory impairments were not detected. Novel usage over short period induced a significant reduction in numerical processing capacity and changes in social cognition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)