The Loh Down On Science

How texting may actually be changing our brains!

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Are emoticons changing our brains?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Emoticons are everywhere.  We text them!  E-mail them!  See a colon, dash, right parenthesis?  We know that means more than punctuation.  It represents a human face!  A smiley one!

This got Australian psychologist Owen Churches curious.  He says humans aren’t born with natural neural responses to punctuation, like they are to human faces.  In fact, we pay more attention to faces than almost anything else.  And our brains have specific regions that activate when we view faces.

Churches wondered:  If we’re now so familiar with smiley emoticons, have our brains developed similar reactions to them as to faces?

To find out, he had twenty volunteers view images.  Real faces, smiley-face emoticons, and meaningless strings of characters like dot-slash-asterisk.  Meanwhile, electrodes monitored people's brainwaves

What happened?  Both human face images and smiley emoticons trigged face-specific brain activity.  Meaningless strings of characters did not.

Churches says this shows smiley recognition is a culturally created brain development.

Colon, dash, right parenthesis, exclamation point to that!  

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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