Being Near Our Smartphones Makes Us Dumber

Intel Free Press, Flickr/


Ever grab your phone to look up the answer to a question you used to know by heart, but just can't remember? Lots of people who lived before smartphones were the rage complain that they feel like they've had a "brain dump" of things they used to know but no longer do.

Turns out that instinct is right! A new set of studies out recently suggest that people who say they're stupider than before they had a phone aren't just aging poorly.

A Wall Street Journal article reports that a series of research studies done recently show that just being near our phone makes us think less!

The researchers recruited 520 undergraduate students at UCSD and gave them two standard tests of intellectual acuity. One test gauged “available cognitive capacity,” a measure of how fully a person’s mind can focus on a particular task. The second assessed “fluid intelligence,” a person’s ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem. The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.

The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. . . .

In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.

What to do about it? Maybe don't consult the phone 80 times a day (30,000 times per year!). Go out and do some word puzzles. Read a book, play the memory game. Just do something to keep your brain operating because "the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."

Are you turning into a cyborg?