Do you know that your smartphones are reducing your cognitive ability even when you’re not using them? Recent studies have shown that when your smartphone is nearby, even if it is off, your cognitive ability is dramatically lowered. This is the key finding of a recent study from The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Here’s how you’re becoming less cognitive-y:
In a study involving nearly 800 smartphone users, McCombs Assistant Professor Adrian Ward and co-authors gauged something that concerns us all. It was discovered for the first time how well people can perform tasks when their smartphones are nearby—even when they are not using them.
In this experiment, the researchers needed study subjects to sit at a computer and complete a series of tasks that required complete focus to pass. The purpose of the tests was to gauge the participants’ available cognitive capacity. Alternatively, they wanted to know about the capacity of the brain to hold and process information at any given time. Before starting, participants were given the option of placing their smartphones face down on the desk, in their pockets, or in their personal bags. Everyone taking part was told to put their phones on silent.
The participants who kept their phones in another room fared noticeably better than those who left them on the desk. That’s not all. They also, slightly, outperformed those who kept them in a pocket or bag. The findings imply that even when people believe they are providing a task, their complete attention and focus, the sheer presence of a smartphone lowers available cognitive capacity and degrades cognitive functioning.
You keep looking towards it thinking the screen is blinking. The notification also keeps turning your attention to it. How can you focus?
“We detect a linear trend that shows that individuals’ available cognitive ability declines as the smartphone becomes more evident,” said Ward. Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone but the act of forcing your mind to focus elsewhere consumes part of your limited cognitive capacity. It’s a brain drain.” So, are you going to be keeping your phone near you next time you want to complete a task?
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