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Science
26 Jun 2017

Study: Mere presence of a smartphone can reduce brain power

How smartphones affect your cognitive capacities

Researchers from the University of Texas in Austin, USA, have concluded that the mere presence of a smartphone can hinder your ability to concentrate on a task, thereby significantly reducing your brain power.

The study involved nearly 800 participants, and is the first study to measure people's ability to complete tasks when in the presence of their smartphones.

In context

How smartphones affect your cognitive capacities

Correlation between cognitive capacities and smartphone presence

"We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants available cognitive capacity decrease," said Adrian Ward, an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas.

Experiment on cognitive capacities in the presence of a smartphone

Experiment #1

Experiment on cognitive capacities in the presence of a smartphone

Researchers undertook experiments to measure the participants' cognitive capacities i.e. their brains' ability to hold information and process data at any given point of time.

This experiment involved computer-based tests requiring full concentration.

Participants were first randomly asked to place their smartphones either face-down on their desks, in another room, or in their pockets or personal bags.

All phones were to be on silent.

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Experiment #2

Experiment on self-declared smartphone dependency

The second experiment tested how a person's self-reported smartphone dependency affected their cognitive capacities.

Here, the participants were given the same series of computer tests as the first experiment, but with their smartphones face-up on their desks, pockets and/or bags, or in another room.

Additionally, some participants were asked to turn their smartphones off.

The performance of participants in the experiments

Findings

The performance of participants in the experiments

In the first experiment, participants with their smartphones in another room decisively outperformed those who kept their smartphones on their desks, and slightly outperformed those who kept theirs in pockets or bags.

In the second, they found that dependent participants underperformed but only in the presence of their smartphones.

Interestingly, whether a smartphone was turned on or off did not affect performances.

How smartphones affected participants' cognitive capacities

"Its not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones. The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity," added Ward, explaining the findings.

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