BY: NADIA ZAIDI
A new study says that the mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, even if the device is turned off.
Researchers at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas conducted experiments with around 800 smartphone users to see how well they could perform tasks when their phones are nearby.
In the first experiment, researchers asked participants to sit at a computer and take a series of tests. These tests required full attention and concentration in order for scores to be high. The tests measured their cognitive capacity, which is the brain’s ability to hold and process data at a given time. Prior to the test, participants were instructed to place their smartphones either in their pockets, bags, on the desk faced down, or in another room.
All participants were instructed to place their phones on silent. What they found was that the people who placed their smartphones in another room significantly outperformed those who had their phones on the desk beside them. They also outperformed users who placed their smartphones in their pocket or bag.
So what does this mean?
Well, the sheer presence of a smartphone impairs our cognitive capacity and overall functioning. Even when you think that you are giving your undivided attention to a task at hand, you are more distracted than you think. If your smartphone is in the vicinity, it is more noticeable and your focus tends to decrease. Even though your conscious mind is not thinking about your smartphone, the processes of forcing yourself not to think about something uses up your cognitive “resources” leading to “brain drain.”
In the other experiment, researchers studied how people’s self-reported smartphone dependence affected his/her cognitive capacity. The participants performed the same tests on the computer as the one’s in the previous experiment. They were randomly assigned to keep their phones on their desk face up, in their bag or pocket, or in another room entirely. This time, they were told to turn off their phones.
The researchers found that those people who were the most dependent on their smartphones performed worst, but only when they kept their smartphones on the desk, or in their pocket or bag. The fact remains that simply having a phone within plain sight, or within easy access reduces a person’s ability to focus and perform a task to the fullest degree because there is a part of the brain that is actively working to not use their phone.
I think most of us can relate to these findings because it reveals a great deal about our tendencies of distraction. We constantly need to be stimulated by our screens, and the people we invite in them. It’s been ten years since the release of the first iPhone, and most of us can barely imagine not having instantaneous access to the internet and apps. It also forces us to be more forgetful because we constantly set reminders, write down notes, and barely force ourselves to remember anything, or use any brain power.
Taking a phone break every now and again could provide multiple benefits, and is something we should all strive to do.