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Are Smart Phones Making Us Dumb?

Just in case you’re still wondering if your behavior is changing because of your cell phone use, let me give you an update on some recent research. In the decade that’s followed the release of the first iPhone from Apple, that little device has transformed the world – and for better or worse, its transforming us as well. Here’s some interesting things to think about as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal:

– A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier—whether they check the phone or not.

– In a 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.

– 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.

– The irony of the smartphone is that the qualities we find most appealing—its constant connection to the net, its multiplicity of apps, its responsiveness, its portability—are the very ones that give it such sway over our minds. Phone makers like Apple and Samsung and app writers like Facebook and Google design their products to consume as much of our attention as possible during every one of our waking hours, and we thank them by buying millions of the gadgets and downloading billions of the apps every year.

What do you think? I’d love to hear how the mobile phone has impacted your life…

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  1. The obvious problem with smartphones is that we all have them and wonder how we survived without them. I worked in the White House from 1983-1986 under President Reagan. No cell phones, no laptops, no desk tops and the country was more united, politicians got along and the Berlin Wall came down. I’m as bad as the next person, but like this response to your post, I can easily write my opinion without much recourse. Not only have people become dumb but disrespectful. Blessings Phil.

    1. Wow. Great insight Ken. I think what we’re seeing in politics is exactly what you’re saying. The digital revolution has given everyone a voice, and far too often we feel compelled to use it… Thanks for posting!

  2. I just shake my head as I read the above summaries. Yep, that’s me . . . But I am becoming familiar with the “do not disturb” feature on my iPhone. After reading this, I intend to use it more and more. Seems like a reasonable solution.

  3. On point #2, I can attest to the effect of an unanswered phone. Decades ago, I read that phones are intentionally designed to grate on our nerves until they are answered. I work in a CSR area where the phones, for extended periods, will ring unanswered, as other callers are being served. I can feel my blood pressure rising during those times, and even when it’s only one phone that’s ringing. The article that I mentioned that we’ve conditioned ourselves to drop the baby, break through a door, do whatever it takes to answer that phone. Modern phones have a selection of ringers; but, still, that built in urgency remains.

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