In an ironic twist on the name, smartphones actually make us less smart – but not necessarily in the way you might imagine.

According to a study carried out at McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, the mere presence of your smartphone can make you dumber – even if it is switched off or silent.

In experiments with nearly 800 volunteers, it was found that people performed worse on a series of tests when they had their smartphone nearby. Let me repeat this again – in case you have a smartphone near you – this was when the phone was set to silent mode or completely switched off.

Must not…think about smartphone…

Whether the phone was face-up or face-down on a desk, stored in a pocket or a bag, the people who had their smartphone near them couldn’t concentrate as well on a number of computer-based tests. It was only when their phone was moved out of the room entirely, that their test scores returned to normal.

How Can a Smartphone Make Us Dumber?

It’s not as if the volunteers were distracted by notifications, calls or texts from their smartphones – they knew not to expect them and had been instructed by the researchers not to use their phones at all.

So, how are the little blighters making us so stupid? Are they secretly sucking up our brain power? Are they really little robots that are taking over our minds? Well, in a way yes.

The researchers concluded that part of the brain is distracted because it’s actively working to not use or pick up the phone, so you lose part of your ability to concentrate on other tasks.

This was backed up by the fact that volunteers who admitted they were heavily-dependent on their phone scored even worse on the tests as soon as their beloved device was within grabbing distance.

So Stupid We Aren’t Even Aware Of It…

Yet participants were totally oblivious to the fact that the presence of their phone had affected their cognitive faculties when they were taking the tests, which measured the brain’s ability to hold and process data. In fact, the vast majority reported that they hadn’t even thought about their phone while the study was underway.

It’s a bit like trying to complete an article about a smartphone study when you know your favourite football team is playing an important match. You’re trying so hard not to think about what the score might be, that you’ve probably made a few grammatical errors. It was 2-1 in the end, by the way.

Or as Professor Adrian Ward, who co-authored the study, put it: “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.”

Smartphones Could Affect Some Seriously Important Tasks

The research suggests that having your smartphone near you could have a negative effect on a number of other cognitive processes and behaviours, such as decision-making, self-control, remembering information, learning, and successfully pursuing goals.

One of the takeaways must be that some of us have become too attached to these little devices. The average smartphone user interacts with their phone an astonishing 85 times a day. And other studies have shown that using a smartphone while trying to do something else decreases our ability to carry out various tasks.

Being over-reliant on your smartphone makes you less able to perform, whether you are using it or not, so it might be wise to have some downtime from your device.

Learning to Live Without Your Smartphone

You can learn to be less distracted by your phone by switching off most of the notifications. Of course, you’ll want to know when someone calls or texts, but do you really need to know every time a friend posts a photo of their lunch on Facebook?

You will find you ae far more productive if you only check your phone on breaks, or a limited number of times a day.

Leave your smartphone somewhere else when you’re doing anything you don’t need it for, or if you’re trying to focus on something else — whether that is work, study, or socialising in the real world. Don’t be that person who goes out with friends, only to sit staring at your screen for most of the night.

And next time you have an important task to complete, keep your phone as far away from you as possible. Out of sight, out of mind.

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