In a 2015 Gallup survey, more than half of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.
Adrien Ward, a cognitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has spent a decade studying the way smart-phones and the internet affect our thoughts and judgments. In his own work, as well as that of others, he has seen mounting evidence that using a smartphone, or even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a wealth of distractions that make it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.
A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier-whether they check the phone or not.
Another study which appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated -Communication, showed that when people who hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens and their problem-solving skills decline.
In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem-solving, and creativity.”
Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study involving 47 subjects in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did the control group whose phones remained out of sight.
A test published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students that didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not; All of them scored equally poorly.
In a study conducted at the University of Essex in the U.K., 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for 10 minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, while half had no phone present. The subjects were then given a test of affinity, trust, and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when a personally meaningful topic was being discussed. The experiments results were validated in a subsequent study by Virginia Tech researchers, published in 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior.
In a seminal 2011 study published in Science, a team of researchers led by the Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and including the late Harvard memory expert Daniel Wegner- had a group of volunteers read 40 brief, factual statements and then type these statements into a computer. Half the people were told that the machine would save what they typed: half were told the statement would be immediately erased. Afterwards, the researchers asked the subjects to write down as many of the statements as they could remember. Those who believed that the facts had been recorded in the computer demonstrated much weaker recall than those who assumed the facts wouldn’t be stored.
In conclusion – smartphones are a great addition to our lives, but can also be an inhibiting factor in our daily lives if not used wisely.