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Research Shows Dependence on Smartphones Weakens Intellect

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According to recently shared data by Apple, an average user pulls the iPhone out and uses it some 80 times a day. This means that you will be consulting your smartphone nearly 30,000 times over the coming year. And while it’s hard to find another product that can provide so many useful functions, scientists are exploring what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition (via The Wall Street Journal).

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Scientists have found that not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. The research shows that as the brain grows dependent on the technology, the intellect weakens.

A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier—whether they check the phone or not. Another 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.

According to Adrian Ward, a cognitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has been studying the way smartphones and the internet affect our thoughts and judgments for a decade, “the division of attention impedes reasoning and performance”. He says that using a smartphone or even hearing one ring or vibrate, “produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job”.

In a 2015 Gallup survey, over 50% of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.

Can you imagine life without your iPhone?

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  • Of course I can imagine my life without an iPhone. Would I want to live a life without an iPhone?
    If we take the fact that my iPhone connects me to a visual interpretation service that helps me with a range of tasks (reading printed text, navigation, telling me what’s around, describing objects and people etc) that sighted folks take for granted, the fact that it also has GPS etc, I wouldn’t want to live without an iPhone, but I could obviously manage (although it would be very difficult).
    But yes, getting a notification on your phone or wrist in the middle of an important task to weaken concentration, so we should use Do Not Disturb when this is the case and only allow emergency contacts such as a spouse to bypass the DND feature.

  • SV650

    I recall a similar study from a few decades ago which came to the same conclusion about telephones, or other devices which call for your attention. Funny thing; we can’t multitask any better now than we could then!

  • Brenda

    The iPhone has made my life easier in too many respects to list. I could live without it, but wouldn’t want to.

    When I don’t want to be disturbed, I turn the sound off. I find it easy to ignore texts and phone calls after a lifetime of ignoring landlines when I can’t or don’t want to take a call.

    And if you’re job doesn’t let you tune out distractions when you need to get things done, it’s time to have a conversation with your boss and disruptions and productivity.

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