How Smart­phones Make You Dumb

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A per­son's cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity is sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced when their smart­phone is within reach — even if it’s off, ac­cord­ing to Mc­combs School of Busi­ness at The Univer­sity of Texas at Austin.

Mc­combs As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Adrian Ward and co-au­thors con­ducted ex­per­i­ments with nearly 800 smart­phone users in an at­tempt to mea­sure, for the first time, how well people can com­plete tasks when they have their smart­phones nearby even when they’re not us­ing them.

In one ex­per­i­ment, the re­searchers asked study par­tic­i­pants to sit at a com­puter and take a se­ries of tests that re­quired full con­cen­tra­tion in or­der to score well. The tests were geared to mea­sure par­tic­i­pants’ avail­able cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity — that is, the brain’s abil­ity to hold and process data at any given time. Be­fore be­gin­ning, par­tic­i­pants were ran­domly in­structed to place their smart­phones ei­ther on the desk face down, in their pocket or per­sonal bag, or in an­other room. All par­tic­i­pants were in­structed to turn their phones to silent.

The re­searchers found that par­tic­i­pants with their phones in an­other room sig­nif­i­cantly out­per­formed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly out­per­formed those par­tic­i­pants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

The find­ings sug­gest that the mere pres­ence of one’s smart­phone re­duces avail­able cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity and im­pairs cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing, even though people feel they’re giv­ing their full at­ten­tion and fo­cus to the task at hand. “We see a lin­ear trend that sug­gests that as the smart­phone be­comes more no­tice­able, par­tic­i­pants’ avail­able cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity de­creases,” Ward said. “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.”

But that is not all. Other stud­ies have shown that mi­crowave ra­di­a­tion from cell phones sig­nif­i­cantly im­pairs brain func­tion. The en­ergy in­hibits neu­rons from fir­ing and send­ing their chem­i­cal mes­sages.

Nu­mer­ous other stud­ies have shown that the ra­di­a­tion from cell phones da­m­ages brain cells and their DNA and the dam­age is passed on to sub­se­quent cells.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion clas­si­fies the mi­crowave ra­di­a­tion emit­ted by cell phones as car­cino­genic.

While mo­bile phones may make a per­son more ef­fec­tive by act­ing as a se­cond brain, hav­ing that se­cond brain also make us dumb by do­ing things that our own brain could do, such as re­mem­ber­ing tasks, stor­ing phone num­bers, be­ing a cal­cu­la­tor, and so on.

Cell phones can also iso­late us so­cially be­cause we can text sim­ple mes­sages in­stead of hav­ing a mean­ing­ful and in-depth face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion.

Many smart­phone users have greatly di­min­ished com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and are no longer able to write co­her­ent and com­plete sen­tences by hand and have trou­ble com­mu­ni­cat­ing ver­bally.

One of the rea­sons that so many people use cell phones is be­cause they are highly ad­dic­tive. The brain re­sponds to the ra­di­a­tion dam­age by re­leas­ing en­dor-phines, so a cell phone can quickly be­come like a drug and is in fact the world's drug of choice these days.

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