Addicted to your phone? Read this
Addicted to your smart phone with text messages, instant messages, social media, shopping and selfies? Find yourself spending time on these things when you are having dinner with friends or family, while watching a movie, during an event or on a date?
Have you lost the ability to concentrate when you know someone has called, sent a text message or email? Does your anxiety rise when you get a phone call or alert while engaged in something else? Has your need to be connected via your phone affected your real-time experiences?
You are not alone. But what about when you have your phone nearby, but not engaging with it or its sounds? Can your phone still be a distraction?
The Journal for the Association of Consumer Research recently published results of a study that investigated whether simply having one’s smartphone nearby could affect cognitive abilities. Close to 800 people completed tasks designed to measure their cognitive capacity during two lab experiments. For the first, participants completed math problems while also memorizing random letters – designed to see how well they can keep track of task-related information while engaging in a complex cognitive task. For the second, participants were shown a set of images that formed an incomplete pattern and asked to choose the image that best completed the pattern – measuring the person’s ability to reason and solve problems. These were chosen by the researchers as both tasks are affected by the person’s available mental resources.
To see how smart phones affected the person’s ability to perform these tasks, participants were asked to place their phones face down at their work stations, keep them in their pocket or bag or leave them in another room. Each participant’s phone was on, but all sound alerts and vibrations were turned off.
The researchers found those who did best on these tasks had their phones in another room, those who did the worst had their phones turned over at their work station and those with phones turned off resulted in similar performance.
“While some of us like to think we are proficient multi-taskers, the human mind does not do this well. When our attention is drawn to something else, we are less able to perform the task at hand, or even fully concentrate on a conversation. Mobile phones are excellent at pulling away our attention, from a ring or alert to the ding of a text or email, our brain loses focus,” says Dr. Melvin Wichter, a neurologist on staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “When it is time to focus on the task or conversation at hand, silence your phone and put it away so your brain won’t register it as something to focus on.”
Smart phones, when used the right way, can help us stay connected and give us the tools to research and make smarter, more timely, decisions. But to get the most benefit, your brain needs a break from the constant stimuli and anxiety an always-at-the-ready smart phone creates.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”