The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone May Reduce Your Cognitive Functioning

The findings from this recent research on how smartphones impact our thinking are both fascinating and alarming.  Researchers at three large universities collaborated on this project to measure how well people can finish tasks when their smartphones are nearby.  Their study included 548 participants (with an average age of 21) who were asked to complete tasks to measure working memory (i.e., the ability to hold on to and process information) and fluid intelligence (i.e., the ability to solve new or unfamiliar problems).  Participants were assigned to one of three groups, depending on cell phone location: desk, pocket/bag, or other room.  All participants were asked to make sure their phones were completely silent during the testing.

After the testing was complete, the participants were asked how much they believed their smartphones affected their performance.  85.6% of the participants reported that their smartphones “neither helped nor hurt [their] performance.”  However, the results of the testing revealed a different story:


Both working memory capacity and fluid reasoning were improved for the group who left their smartphones in another room.  The researchers found that “the mere presence of one’s smartphone may reduce available cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning, even when consumers are successful at remaining focused on the task at hand.” 

Given that End of Grade (EOG) Tests and End of Course (EOC) tests are just a few weeks away, this research really resonated with us.  The researchers noted that, “As educational institutions increasingly embrace “connected classrooms,” the presence of students’ mobile devices in educational environments may undermine both learning and test performance—particularly when these devices are present but not in use.”

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