Brain Bulletin #108 - A Surprisingly Easy Way to Reduce Our Brainpower 25% !
in Brain Bulletin
You sit down at the table, move the napkin to your lap, put the phone on silent, and place it face-down on the table. You sit down to read a book, or study, press "silent mode", put the phone down. Now you're ready to focus and concentrate, right? Maybe not.
It turns out that our smartphones reduce our brainpower, even if they're just sitting there. Even when powered off.
Brain power starts with focused attention, and attention is a precious commodity. Earl Nightingale once said, "We become what we think about." And we think about what we pay attention too. A recent study published in the journal of Social Psychology found that the mere presence of a smartphone can distract us by diminishing our attention span and cognitive ability, even without using the phone. It just has to be present.
In fact, if our phones are anywhere in our field of vision, our attention density is reduced by 25% !
Bill Thornton, lead author of a study, and psychologist at the University of Southern Maine, and his colleagues set out to determine if the mere presence of our phones would be distracting to our brains. It turns out they were a distraction. A big one.
Two groups were given cognitive tasks to complete. One group was told to put their phones on the desks, the other group to put them away. The group that put the phones away scored 25% higher. The findings provide evidence that the mere presence of a phone may be sufficiently distracting to reduce attention span and cognitive abilities, especially when the task is complex. Other studies have found similar results.
Here's a question to ask yourself: "Would I have trouble getting through a normal day without my smartphone?" If the answer is "yes", then a study published in the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research says that this "cognitive smartphone tax" is even greater.
We are left with the conclusion that constant connectivity throughout the day is a continual source of interruption and distraction even when we are not using our phones. It affects our ability to maintain attention density, and to think deeply about other things.
I don't think anyone can tell you what to do about this. Everyone is different, and you do have to make your life work. I can tell you what I've started doing:
- As much as possible, I put my phone out of sight. Usually in another room. This has helped my focus a lot.
- I don't have social media apps on my phone. I only check social media from my computer.
- My phone is not in the room when I sleep. I use an old-fashioned alarm clock. I set two clocks when it's important.
- I don't give out my cell phone number. All my business correspondence is done by email. My cell phone number just goes to family, and a few close friends. This simplifies things a lot.
These strategies won't work for everyone, but they may get you thinking.
Here's one more thing to think about: A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that just the presence of a cell phone can influence the quality of face-to-face conversations. When a phone was present, and the couple wasn't using it, they reported lower relationship quality, diminished empathy, and less trust.
I would add that when my phone is out, it affects my ability to listen. Rachel Ramen wisely notes, "The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give to each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal, and to connect than the most well-intentioned words." Indeed.
And on the topic of smartphones, here's something else:
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It's been a while between this Brain Bulletin and the last. Busy times. 23 presentations so far this year. The highlight was my January speaking tour in northern India. I loved it - the people, the sights, the food! It's finally Spring in the Pacific Northwest, and our brains are getting outdoors more. I'm getting in lots of cycling, and tennis. And yard-work, after all gardening is good for the brain.
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