Researchers at the University of Texas find the "mere presence" of a phone reduces our ability to think and concentrate -- even when it's off.
Rochelle GarnerFeatures Editor / News
Rochelle Garner is features editor for CNET News. A native of the mythical land known as Silicon Valley, she has written about the technology industry for more than 20 years. She has worked in an odd mix of publications -- from National Geographic magazine to MacWEEK and Bloomberg News.
Looks like the word "smartphone" may be a misnomer. Sure the phone may be smart, but just having it around makes us dumber, according to a study of nearly 800 phone users conducted by the University of Texas at Austin.
Researchers at the university's McCombs School of Business asked participants to take a series of computer-based tests that needed their full concentration. Before they began the tests, geared to measure "the brain's ability to hold and process data at any given time," people in the study were randomly asked to either place their phone facedown on the desk, in their pocket or in another room. All were told to mute the sound.
The study found that people with their phones in another room "significantly outperformed" those who had their phones on the desk, and did slightly better than those who had their phones in a pocket.
"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," said McCombs Assistant Professor Adrian Ward, who headed the experiment. "It's a brain drain."
Researchers found just having a phone within view or easy reach reduces a person's ability to focus and perform tasks, because our brain's are actively working to not pick up the phone. "The mere presence of their smartphones was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity," Ward said. The full study can be found here.
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