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Press release


How Sensory Systems Integrate Mobile Phone Signals

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Scientists at Charité − Universitätsmedizin Berlin have recently discovered how sensory organs perceive and process the simultaneous ringing, vibrating and flashing generated by mobile phones. When simultaneously confronted with acoustic, tactile, and visual stimuli, people tend to react more rapidly to incoming calls and text messages. The results of this study have been published in the current edition of the scientific journal Plos One*.

As soon as an incoming call or text message arrives, modern smart phones ring, vibrate and flash. Users are confronted with numerous and various simultaneous stimuli, which the individual human sensory systems must register and process. So just how does the brain access the information coming from auditory, visual or tactile systems? Are the various bits of information that enter the different sensory organs processed independently of each other or do they merge at some point? In the field of neuroscience this latter case is called multisensory integration. 

For the first time, the research group led by Prof. Dr. Daniel Senkowski from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Charité Campus Mitte has carried out scientific investigations to determine whether acoustic, tactile, and visual stimuli produced by mobile phones are integrated in a multisensory manner. In this experimental study, the subjects were given cell phones which either rang, vibrated, or flashed, or produced a combination of these various sensory stimuli. The study subjects were asked to react to each individual stimulus by touching the display as rapidly as possible.

The results show that the study subjects reacted significantly faster to stimuli that impacted all three senses simultaneously, than to each individual stimulus targeting just one of these senses. “Our findings suggest that our sensory systems process and integrate the different mobile phone signals. The multisensory integration of such signals enables us to react more rapidly to incoming calls”, explains Prof. Senkowski. In addition to accelerating behavioral performance, the findings indicate that multisensory stimulation also increases the potential risk for distracting effects. “For example, when driving an automobile, the simultaneous ringing, vibrating, and flashing produced by a smartphone can significantly distract drivers from concentrating on the traffic. In such situations where close concentration is absolutely required, it is thus preferable to not stimulate the various sensory organs simultaneously, but rather with one signal at a time”, emphasized Prof. Senkowski.

*Pomper U, Brincker J, Harwood J, Prikhodko I, Senkowski D. Taking a call is facilitated by the multisensory processing of smartphone vibrations, sounds, and flashes. Plos One 2014 August 12. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103238


Multisensory Integration Research Group Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

Link to the article


Prof. Dr. Daniel Senkowski
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Campus Charité Mitte
t: +49 30 231 127 38

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