Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The mere presence of your phone is a ‘brain drain’: study

phone.jpg

We’re well aware that mobiles phones aren’t exactly a shining beacon of wellbeing and happiness. Yet – like an unhealthy relationship we just can’t quit – we use them more compulsively than ever.

One in ten of us checks our phone as soon as we wake up in the morning, and a staggering 30% do so in the middle of the night. 

A third of Brits argue with their partners over phone use, a tenth of us tune in during meal-times and the majority of us spend over three hours a day scrolling, messaging and monitoring.

No wonder they’re a barrier to intimacy, that distract us from real-life events and relationships.

And now, as well as triggering stress and sleep disturbances, a new study has found that mobile phones can make us less intelligent just by looking at them.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that phones work to erode our cognitive function, even when they’re switched off.

Professor Adrian Ward and his team asked 800 participants to take a computer test that demanded “full concentration in order to score well”. Tasks involved mathematics, memory and reasoning skills.

In the first session, volunteers were randomly told to either put smartphones on the desk face down, in their pocket or bag, or in another room. All were instructed to put their phones on silent.


Read more: Are you addicted to your phone? Take this test to find out


Those who had their phones in another room significantly performed everyone else, including those who had phones in their bags or pockets.

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” says Ward, in the study published in ScienceDaily this week.

“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.

“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” he notes. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”

By banning phones, we get to be more brainy AND appreciate real life

By banning phones, we get to be more brainy AND appreciate real life (illustration: Jean Jullien)

The researchers repeated the experiment with a different group of volunteers, but asked them to rate their dependence on their phones beforehand.

Again, participants were randomly instructed to put their phones face down, in a bag or next door – all on silent.

Those who reported having a high dependency on their phones scored worse than others in the concentration test; except when their phone was in another room.


Read more: Illustrator cleverly captures how our phones are taking over our lives


“Although these devices have immense potential to improve welfare, their persistent presence may come at a cognitive cost,” warns Prof. Ward.

He suggests that planned periods of separation from your phone throughout the day “may allow consumers to perform better not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity”.

We’ll bear that in mind next time we have to tackle our tax returns...

Main photo: iStock

Related

writing book.jpg

Bestselling author reveals surprising side-effect of writing a book

penny wong comeback.JPG

Australian politician expertly shuts down manterrupter

iStock-600702244.jpg

Social media could be the reason you feel lonely, warn scientists

More

Amazon allegedly passed on Big Little Lies for a grossly sexist reason

A report claims programming chief Roy Price dismissed the hit show

by Amy Swales
23 Oct 2017

The ultimate guide to flaking on your friends (without feeling guilty)

Clear your calendar *and* your conscience

by Kate Faithfull-Williams
23 Oct 2017

These 3 simple techniques will allow you to control your dreams

Research highlights how to increase your chances of lucid dreaming

by Moya Crockett
23 Oct 2017

Blake Lively on how women in Hollywood are limited by “likeability"

The actor points out men can be "assholes" and still seen as charming

by Megan Murray
23 Oct 2017

This London cheese restaurant is offering halloumi ice cream

Cheese fans and bored veggies, rejoice

by Susan Devaney
23 Oct 2017

20 soothing, beautiful songs guaranteed to help you fall asleep

An expert picks the ultimate classical music playlist

by Sarah Biddlecombe
20 Oct 2017

Puppy dog eyes are a thing and your dog makes them just for you

A study says dogs change their facial expressions when humans are looking

by Amy Swales
20 Oct 2017

Here’s how to buy a house or a flat for the princely sum of £1

It's time to enter the real-estate raffle

by Megan Murray
20 Oct 2017

Oxford University under fire for shocking lack of racial diversity

One MP called the revelations an example of “social apartheid”

by Moya Crockett
20 Oct 2017

This prosecco festival is the best way to start feeling Christmassy

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere

by Susan Devaney
20 Oct 2017