Are Smartphones Dumbing Us Down?

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On the iPhone’s tenth anniversary has our obsession with using our smartphones made us less thoughtful or quick on our feet?

It’s been ten years since Apple introduced the iPhone. There’s no doubt that it has revolutionized the world of technology with slimmer and better performing devices coming out year after year, but has this come at a cost?

New research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin says yes. Dr. Adrian Ward, a professor at the McCombs School asked 800 individuals to take a computer based test. Some participants were asked to place their phones on their desk, in their pocket or backpack, or in another room altogether.

The study found that those participants that left their phone in another room performed much better than those who left their smartphone on their desks face down. The participants who left their phones in their pockets/bags slightly underperformed the students who left their phones in another room.

The researchers concluded that with increased noticeability of the smartphone, “cognitive resources” are taken away from the test. Of this Dr. Ward said, “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.”

The researchers also conducted another experiment where they made the participants take the test after self-reporting their dependency on smartphones. The results showed participants who were the most dependent on their smartphones performed worse than the less dependent participants.

In addition, it was discovered that regardless of whether the phone was on or off, or whether it was face up or down, the same effects were observed.

iPhones may have triggered a digital revolution, but they’re certainly not helping you on your physics test.

The entire study can be found here.

Nikhil Sridhar seeks out writers who bring important new perspectives to Merion West. He studies biology and political science at Duke University and is interested in American politics.

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