Study conducts Psychological Memory and Attention tests of more than 500 undergraduates
In the study, Ward and his colleagues examined the performance of more than 500 undergraduates on two different common psychological tests of memory and attention.
What Does the Study Find: Your Smartphone Reduces Your Brainpower, Even If It’s Just Sitting There A silent, powered-off phone can still distract the most dependent users. A smartphone can tax its user’s cognition simply by sitting next to them on a table, or being anywhere in the same room with them, suggests a study published recently in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. It finds that a smartphone can demand its user’s attention even when the person isn’t using it or consciously thinking about it. Even if a phone’s out of sight in a bag, even if it’s set to silent, even if it’s powered off, its mere presence will reduce someone’s working memory and problem-solving skills.
In both experiments, students who left their phones outside the room seemed to do best on the test. They also found the trials easier—though, in follow-up interviews, they did not attribute this to their smartphone’s absence or presence. Throughout the study, in fact, respondents rarely attributed their success or failure on a certain test to their smartphone, and they almost never reported thinking they were underperforming on the tests.
How our brains use limited real-time resources
We have limited attentional resources, and we use some of them to point the rest of those resources in the right direction. Usually different things are important in different contexts, but some things—like your name—have a really privileged status,” – Adrian Ward, an author of the study and a psychologist who researches consumer decision-making at the University of Texas at Austin.
“This idea with smartphones is that it’s similarly relevant all of the time, and it gets this privileged attentional space. That’s not the default for other things,”
“In a situation where you’re doing something other than, say, using your name, there’s a pretty good chance that whatever your phone represents is more likely to be relevant to you than whatever else is going on.”
What Experiments Did Scientists Complete: In the first experiment, some participants were told to set their phones to silent without vibration and either leave them in their bag or put them on their desk. Other participants were asked to leave all their possessions, including their cell phone, outside the testing room.
In the second experiment, students were asked to leave their phones on their desk, in their bag, or out in the hall, just as in the first experiment. But some students were also asked to power their phone off, regardless of location.
Who Published the Study: Journal of the Association for Consumer Research
The Institution behind the Study: University of Texas
Scientists Conducting the Study: Adrian Ward, an author of the study and a psychologist who researches consumer decision-making at the University of Texas at Austin.
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