Study: just being close to your phone will impact your cognition (in a bad way)

A smartphone connected to the Internet puts an immense amount of information at your fingertips and that's a great thing. While the benefit of having such instant access to information is welcomed, the potential cognitive effects a phone's presence may have on one's mind isn't. According to a newly published study coming from the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business, simply having your phone nearby is enough to negatively impact your cognitive capacity.

It doesn't matter if your phone is turned off, if it is silent, if you're trying to ignore long as it is close enough for you to grab, it is 'significantly' reducing your cognitive capacity, according to researchers. Such findings are based on experiments conducted with about 800 smartphone users, many of whom performed much better at cognitive tasks when their phones were in another room.

Volunteers were tasked with taking tests based around gauging cognitive capacity — that is, your ability to acquire, retain, and then process information at all times. Some volunteers took the test with their phone on the desk, while others had it in a pocket or in a bag, and yet others had their phone in a different room. While putting the phone out of sight, such as in a pocket, has a slightly positive effect compared to the brain-drain caused by phones on a desk, volunteers who didn't have a phone nearby performed much better than everyone else.

While those results are surprising, a second experiment wasn't so found that people who are more dependent on their phones experience more severely hampered cognitive capacity when their phone is around. Why the negative effects?

Talking about this, assistant professor Adrian Ward said:

We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants' available cognitive capacity decreases. 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. It's a brain drain.

The moral of the story? You may want to leave your phone in the car the next time you go take a final or crackdown on a strenuous project at work. You can read the full study here.

SOURCE: University of Texas at Austin