Mobile Brain Drain

Mobile Brain Drain

It’s been 10 years since the first iPhone was sold in stores  and the millions of people who now own one likely won’t dispute that having the internet, social media and countless apps at their fingertips can sometimes be a distraction. But new research shows that even when people aren’t using them, simply having smartphones nearby compromises their ability to think and perform other tasks.

So what does the current research tell us about mobile devices distracting us?

Well, it looks like we are starting to get some feedback on new research showing that even when people aren’t using  their mobile devices simply having their smartphones nearby compromises their ability to think and perform other tasks.  They are calling it: smartphone-induced ‘brain drain and researchers at University of Texas put together a series of tests to prove this theory.

The Study:

So, this study measured the cognitive performance of hundreds of participants through a series of  mental tasks. Some had been told to leave their belongings, including their smartphones, in the lobby outside the testing room. Others were allowed to keep their phones with them in their bags or their pockets. A final group kept their smartphones and were told to place them face down on the desk. Under all three circumstances, the participants were told to turn both the ringer and vibrate functions off.

The study found that the participants who had their smartphones on their desks performed significantly worse than those who left their phones outside the room, suggesting decreased cognitive capacity. And those who had their phones in their bags or pockets performed somewhere in the middle.

These results then lead to interesting debate suggesting that our smartphones can actually reduce our ability to do other tasks even if they’re in our environment and not just when we’re using them.  

Which can lead to the argument that people are so used to having constant access to text messages, emails, social media, apps, that the very act of trying to ignore the presence of the device providing those things reduces the capacity of your brain power in and of itself.

Did this study report any benefits to having your mobile device near you?

There was mention that for some people who continually are having to outsource answers or find actual content for something it probably makes sense to have these devices handy. I would think that because this study focused on specific cognitive tasks that require high levels of concentration more research is needed to determine how the presence of smartphones affects how people think in different types of work environments, classrooms and social situations. I know for me as a classroom teacher the very presence of a mobile phone on a students desk or in their pocket is just too much of a temptation for them providing enough distraction to affect their ability to concentrate.

The bottom line:

So, it looks like this study is suggesting that even when you’re being successful at avoiding the temptation to send a text message, or check Twitter,  just having your smartphone in your environment, provides enough of an opportunity for distraction, which then reduces the cognitive capacity you have for the task at hand.

I don’t think the answer rid of your phone. It would be my opinion that it’s important to know how they’re affecting our focus, attention, and cognition, so that  we are not blindly using technology without knowing any potential consequences.



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