Study shows that having a smartphone nearby reduces brainpower


The experts’ advice to tackle this issue is to separate oneself from the device.

Photo: Pixabay

Cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when a smartphone is close, even if it is turned off, according to a new study by the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

Smartphones are known for being addictive and, on average, people check their devices 85 times a day. Ninety-one percent say they never leave their home without their phones and 46% say they cannot live without them.

The paper “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” addresses this issue with the goal of finding out how our dependence on the devices affects our off-screen world.

“Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence,” states the study.

Researchers conducted experiments with 800 smartphone users. In one experiment, they asked participants to take computer tests that required their complete cognitive capacity. Participants were asked to put their smartphones (on silent mode) either on the desk face down, in their pocket or personal bag, or in another room.

The persons that placed their devices in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and slightly outperformed those with their phones in a pocket or a bag.

“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 McCombs Assistant Professor Adrian Ward.

Researchers also found that persons with high smartphone dependence suffer the most with their salience, and benefit the most with their absence. The experts’ advice to tackle this issue is to separate oneself from the device.

“Defined and protected periods of separation may allow consumers to perform better not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity”.