Having Smartphone Nearby May Impair Cognition

Having Smartphone Nearby May Impair Cognition

Many of us are in awe of the amazing opportunities for connectivity, information, and entertainment offered by our smartphones. But is one aware of the cognitive costs that come with frequent smartphone use?
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin set out to examine the effect that having one’s smartphone nearby can have on one’s ability to concentrate.
The team was led by Adrian Ward, an assistant professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, and the findings were published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, medicalnewstoday.com reported.
Previous research had suggested that “the mere presence of personally relevant stimuli” can cause us to perform worse cognitively.
Ward and colleagues wanted to test this “brain drain” hypothesis in regard to smartphones. They wanted to see whether merely being in the presence of the device, without even using it, would make people less able to complete cognitive tasks.
Ward and colleagues examined almost 800 smartphone owners. They asked the users to take part in two experiments designed to assess their ability to complete cognitive tasks while their smartphones were in the vicinity.
In one of the experiments, all participants had to put their smartphones on silent.
Participants were asked to complete a series of computerized tests created to test their ability to focus.
The tests were designed to evaluate the participants’ cognitive capacity on two dimensions: “available working memory capacity (WMC) and functional fluid intelligence (Gf).”
WMC refers to a person’s attention resources, as well as his or her ability to use these resources to store and process new information. Gf describes a person’s ability to think about and solve new problems.
Overall, the experiment revealed that the sheer presence of a smartphone can affect cognitive capacity on both of these levels.
“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases.”
“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,” said Ward.

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