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Are smartphones making us more stupid?

By Tim Sandle     Jun 28, 2017 in Internet
Chicago - Smartphones and other connected devices are delivering an array of useful functions and life-enhancing benefits. But is there a cost? Is our ‘over reliance’ on these computers coming at a cost of cognitive decline?
These are the types of questions posed by Dr. Adrian F. Ward and colleagues from University of Texas at Austin. The aim of recent research was to consider if the “persistent presence” of smartphones comes at a cognitive cost. The study set out to test the so-called “brain drain” hypothesis. This runs: “the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources.” The consequence of this is that it leaves us with “fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance”.
The research is therefore different to other studies which look at how much time we spend on smartphones and what happens when we use smartphones. The new research is about when smartphones are not in use, but are merely present, what impact does this have on our cognitive function?
The reason for the research is due to people’s growing dependence on smartphones. Earlier research has shown we typically interact with our phones an average of 85 times a day. This includes immediately upon waking up, before going to sleep, and sometimes in the middle of the night.
To examine this, the research group undertook two studies. In the first experiment, the researchers required volunteers to sit in front of a computer and take several tests that required full concentration. The tests assessed the participants' available cognitive capacity (the brain's ability to hold and process information). At the start the subjects were divided up. Some were instructed to put their smartphones either on the desk face down; others to put their devices into in their pocket; and others to place the device in another room. All smartphones were put onto silent mode. Those who had their phones in another room outperformed those with their phones on the desk; in turn, those who had their phones on their desk outperformed those kept their phones in their pocket.
With the second study, the self-reported smartphone dependence of the volunteers was assessed. Here the same series of tests were performed with the same divisions with the group where the phones were located. It was found that participants who were the most dependent on their devices performed significantly worse compared with people who were reportedly less-dependent.
The research outcomes showed that even though most people are successful at maintaining sustained attention, such as resisting the temptation to check their phones, the presence of the devices still reduces available cognitive capacity. Such cognitive costs are higher for people with a smartphone dependence. The outcome is that many suffer from “attentional control” which affects their ability to carry out other tasks as efficiently as when smartphones are not present and thoughts are not orientated towards use of the device. This arises because we are only capable of attending to and processing a tint proportion of the vast amount of information we are bombarded with at any given time. The presence of the smartphone, it appears, negates this capacity further.
The new research has been published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, under the title “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.”
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