Why Your Phone Is “a Brain Drain” Even When It’s Off
A University of Texas study reveals the insidious effect smartphones have on our cognitive capacity
By Ian Servantes
Science isn’t short on reasons smartphones are ruining our lives. The keep us awake at night, have us compulsively checking for alerts, and even make us gain weight. Those all come from actually using smartphones, but a new study says the devices affect us just when they’re near and even when they’re off.
Researchers from the University of Texas had 800 smartphone users complete tasks with their smartphones nearby. The subjects took computer tests that required their full concentration, and the researchers had them place their silenced phone either face down on the desk, in their pocket or bag, or in another room entirely. Those who had their phone out of the room did significantly better than those with the phone on their desk and slightly better than those with their phone in a pocket or bag.
In another experiment, researchers had participants do the same tasks, but with their phone face up on the desk, in a pocket or a bag, or in another room. Only some of them were told to turn their phone off. Those who reported high smartphone dependency did worse than those who reported lower dependency when their phones were on their desk or in a pocket or bag. Whether or not the phone was off made no difference, meaning its presence alone hindered their ability.
Adrian Ward, an assistant professor and co-author of the study, told UT: “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.”
We’re not going to say you should throw your phone in a lake, but maybe you should throw your phone in a lake.
Originally published on menshealth.com