Unplug & Recharge//

Your Phone Doesn’t Even Need To Be On To Distract You

This is eye-opening news.

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

If you think you’re boosting your productivity by putting your phone face down on your desk while you work, think again: Just having your smartphone near you—even if it’s turned off—could affect your brain capacity, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Researchers from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin tested 800 participants on their available cognitive capacity (the amount of bandwidth your brain has to analyze and store data at any given time) via a computer test that required their full attention. Participants silenced their smartphones and were randomly selected to place the phones in one of three different locations while they completed the computer test: Face down on the desk in front of them, in their pocket or purse or outside of the room.

The researchers found that the people who kept their phones in another room “significantly outperformed” people who were asked to leave their phones on the desk and slightly outperformed those who had their phones in their pocket or bag, according to the study’s press release.

Assistant professor of marketing Adrian Ward shed some light on why phones have this effect on us in the press release:  “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.”

Another experiment in the same study looked at the relationship between cognitive capacity and people’s self-reported smartphone dependence. Much like the other experiment, participants took the same computer tests and were randomly asked to put their phone face down, in their pocket or purse or outside of the room, but this time, some participants were asked to turn their phones off instead of just silencing them. The people who rated themselves as the most dependent on their phones performed worse compared to those who weren’t as attached to their phones. Interestingly, that only held true when their smartphones were in the room with them, according to the press release.

The researchers found that it didn’t matter whether the phone was facing up or down on the desk, or whether it was silenced or not—having the phone within reach was still distracting. Ward has an idea about why: “It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” he said in the press release. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.” 

The takeaway: You’re better off leaving your phone somewhere you can’t see it—preferably out of the room entirely—when you need to concentrate. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

Read more about the study here

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