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Can Our Smartphones Make Us Less Smart?

28 October 2020

We all know better than to use our cellphones while driving – the distraction it represents has been proven clearly. In many states, including our own, it’s even been made illegal.

But I recently became aware of a more ominous potential effect, as illustrated in a study published in 2017 in The University of Chicago’s Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

For this study, researchers Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos conducted two experiments on two different sets of undergraduate participants. In both cases, participants were sorted into three groups. All were instructed to silence their smartphones, and turn off vibrations. The first group were told to put their smartphones face down on their desks; the second kept their phones, but had to stow them in pockets or bags; the third left their belongings outside the testing room.

They were then administered two different cognitive tests (the second test varied between the two experiments, the first remained the same for both groups of participants), after which they answered a series of questions as to how much they thought about their smartphones, how their presence or absence affected their performance, and provided demographic information.

In both experiments, the majority of participants’ answers as to how much they thought about their phones and how much their performance on the tests was affected were consistent across all three groups, that they had not thought about their phones much, nor did they believe their performance was affected.

But the test results told a different story. Both experiments showed the best results coming from the group which had left their smartphones outside the testing room, followed by those who’d put them in their bags or pockets. The worst performers were the ones whose phones remained in sight on their desks.

In all groups, performance was lower among those who reported the greatest dependence on their smartphones.

Can our smartphones be a distraction even when our attention is fully focused elsewhere, without our being aware of it? This study seems to indicate they can.

I love my smartphone – it’s an amazing tool, and an amazingly powerful one.

But our phones are incapable of considering what our best interests are. We’re the ones who have to do that. And I think this study is a sobering reminder to think long and hard about how dependent we are on them.

How dependent are you on your smartphone, and how often do you turn to it for other purposes than calls and texting?

Please click here to email me directly – I would love to hear from you on this!

Until next Wednesday –



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