Your Smartphone Can Reduce Your Cognitive Capacity: Study


The average American adult spends more than nine hours glued to their smartphones. What impact do smartphone use and dependency have on brainpower?

A new study suggests having a smartphone within reach, whether it's turned off or not, can likely impair one's ability to think, concentrate, and perform tasks because a part of the brain is actively working to resist using the phone.

Adrian Ward, one of the researchers of the study, said the conscious mind is not thinking about the smartphone, but the process of not thinking about something can use up limited cognitive resources.

"It's a brain drain," said Ward.

Ward said he and his colleagues have traced a significant linear trend which states that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, the cognitive capacity of participants decreases.

Completing Tasks

In this first-of-a-kind study, Ward and his team conducted tests involving about 800 smartphone users to measure how well people can accomplish tasks when they have their smartphones nearby and even when the devices are not being used.

At the start of the experiment, participants were asked to place their smartphones either in their personal bag or pocket, on the desk face down, or in another room. All participants were told to put their smartphones into silent mode.

Then, participants were requested to sit at a computer and answer a series of tests that needed full attentiveness to score well. These tests can gauge the available cognitive capacity of participants or the ability of their brains to hold and process data at any time.

Results Of The Study

The research team discovered that the study participants whose smartphones were in the other room significantly outperformed those participants whose smartphones were on the desk. The group also slightly outperformed participants whose smartphones were in the bag or in their pocket.

The results of the report indicate that the mere presence of a smartphone can reduce a person's available cognitive capacity and can decrease their cognitive functioning, even though the participant feels they're giving their full concentration to the tasks.

Meanwhile, researchers also examined how a person's self-reported smartphone dependency can affect cognitive capacity. They found that those who were the most dependent on their smartphones had terrible performances on the computer test compared to their peers who were less dependent.

Ward and his co-authors also found that it did not matter whether the smartphone was turned off or on, or whether it was lying face down or face up on the desk. The proximity of the smartphone can still affect concentration.

Details of the report are published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

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