Does using smartphones negatively affect our cognitive ability? Numerous studies have suggested that using gadgets such as smartphones have a negative effect on our health. The previous study, however, posed another shocking discovery.
Adrian Ward and his colleagues at McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin conducted a series of experiments. The studies investigated the smartphone effect on cognitive functioning.
In one experiment, participants were instructed to sit in front of a computer to take a series of tests. These tests generally required focus to score high. The purpose of the activity is to measure the participants’ cognitive ability to hold and process information at a given time.
Moreover, the participants were instructed to place their smartphones in three possible places such as on the desk face down, inside their pocket or bag, or in another room. All cell phones were turned silent.
The smartphone effect
The finding of this experiment was interesting. The participants who placed their cell phones in the other room outperformed those participants who keep their cell phones on the desk and in a pocket or bag.
The finding implies that the mere presence of cell phones can negatively affect individuals’ cognitive functioning. Although participants will they try to focus on the task at hand, the same effect may occur.
“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” Ward explained. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process – the process of requiring yourself to not think about something – uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”
In the second experiment, the researchers investigated the smartphone dependence effect on cognitive capacity. The participants also underwent the same series of computer tests as the first group of participants. The participants were instructed to place their phones either on the desk, in a pocket, or in another room.
The finding suggests another interesting result. The researchers found that participants who are more dependent on smartphones scored lower on the tests than those who are less dependent.
Ward and his colleagues come up with a shocking conclusion. From the two studies, the researchers concluded that a smartphone effect is evident regardless of whether or not phones are turned off or on.
The presence of smartphones is enough to impair a person’s focus and task performance. The reason for this is that when a person suppresses himself/herself to use a phone, his/her brain works not to pick up or use the phone.
Self-suppression might not be effective to control behavior. The brain sometimes does not do what you intend it to do. For instance, if you deliberately tell your brain not to think a certain thing or event, your brain will become preoccupied with that information instead.
Similarly, if I instruct you to “NOT THINK ABOUT COLOR RED”, does your brain follow? Well, you know the answer.
Finally, Ward concluded: “It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones. The mere presence of their smartphones was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”