Never mind the hours you wasted on Candy Crush Saga or texts to women who’ll never text you back, your smartphone is siphoning off brain cells just by showing up!
That’s right: A study from the University of Texas at Austin concluded that your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s turned off.
The researchers gathered nearly 800 smartphone users together for the study. They asked the participants to take a series of tests that required a high degree of focus. The tests were designed to gauge the participants’ cognitive capacity – the brain’s ability to hold and process data at any given time. At random, some participants were asked to place their smartphones in another room. The remainder placed them on the desk face down, in their pocket or inside a personal bag.
Those whose smartphones were stashed in a different room scored best on the tests, the researchers learned. They scored significantly higher than those who kept their phones on the desk, and slightly better than those who kept their phones in a bag or pocket.
“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” said study co-author Professor Adrian Ward. “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.”
Further experimentation by the UT Austin scientists delved into how strongly a person feels he or she needs to have a smartphone in order to get through a typical day affected cognitive capacity – a measurement of so-called “smartphone dependence.” After each participant self-reported to what degree they “depended” upon their smartphone to get them through the day, the same random assignment of phones to pockets, hand bags, and other rooms was made. In this phase, some participants were also instructed to turn off their phones.
As you might guess, the worst performers were those participants who were the most dependent on their smartphones – but only when they kept their smartphones on the desk or in their pocket or bag.
In short, it didn’t matter whether a person’s phone was face up or down, on or off – just the mere sight of the device within easy reach was enough to reduce that person’s capacity to focus.
The study has been published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.