Fascinating research out of the University of Chicago.
Researchers had groups of people complete standardized cognitive tasks, like memorizing letter sequences or solving math problems. All participants had smartphones that were put on “silent mode”–no distractions from alerts–but in each case, the location of the phones changed:
- One group had their phones on the desk in front of them, facedown.
- Another had their phones in the pockets or bags with them.
- The last group had their phones in an entirely different room.
The result? The closer the phone was to you while doing the thinking tasks, the lousier you were at thinking. Those with the phone on the desk did as poorly as those who are sleep deprived, even though the phones were facedown and silent.
Why is this? The researchers don’t know for sure but the thought is that having that phone in sight, even facedown with the sound off, keeps our minds connected to it. We’re dedicating a little bit of brainpower to monitoring the phone all the time, even though we don’t realize it.
What this Means for You
Complaints of lack of focus, foggy thinking, and memory issues are common here at the clinic, and they span all age groups. Parents of our younger patients worry about attention problems in school, while our older patients wonder if they’re experiencing the early onset of dementia.
There are many potential causes for these symptoms, but if your smartphone is a big part of your life, perhaps a good first step is to create times when your phone is shut off and out of sight. That’ll give your brain a chance to fully focus on what you’re doing. You might find that the root of the problem isn’t what you thought!