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There is no doubt that smartphones have revolutionised the way we live our lives and, especially at this time of global restrictions, we are fortunate that they can be used to stay connected to work, family and friends. Add to that the fact that the answer to almost any question is now at our fingertips and you would think that this is the perfect device.
However, recent research* suggests that, while it may seem like our minds are enhanced by all this instant access to information, these devices could actually be causing us more harm than good.
Here we highlight several ways your smartphone might be affecting your brain and your ability to do your job as well as damage your personal and professional relationships.
Cognitive abilities: Research shows that smartphones can cause damage to our attention, memory, and ability to learn new concepts due to the way our minds allocate cognitive resources.
When you concentrate on one specific task for a long period of time, you devote all of your brain power to completing it. This mental state is associated with high productivity, creativity, and logical reasoning.However, when we split our attention between two different tasks at the same time, our minds are never fully focused on either one. Each task occupies a portion of our working memory, limiting the cognitive resources that can be applied.
A 2017 study at the University of Texas carried out an experiment to measure how the presence of a smartphone affected the subjects' scores on computer-based cognitive tests. One group kept their phones on the table during the test,while another group kept their phone in a different room. Even though all phones were on silent during the test, the group that kept their phones on the table earned the lowest scores. The researchers concluded that our phones take up cognitive capacity when they are in close proximity to us, even when they are not being used.
Addiction: It is becoming increasingly common for people to be addicted to their smartphone without even realising it. The dopamine hit which we experience when we receive a message or someone comments on our social media posts gives us a high which can lead to constant checking of our devices to replicate the feeling. This causes both disengagement with the people around us which can damage real life relationships, coupled with reducing productivity as thought processes and tasks are constantly interrupted by checking our phones. This simple test can help you find out if you’re too addicted to your smartphone.
Sleep: Studies have shown that being exposed to the blue and white light from your smartphone directly before going to sleep can be a major contributor to sleep disorders.Checking your phone for long periods directly before bed should be avoided in order to allow your brain to release the chemicals needed to get off to sleep more easily. Poor quality sleep leads to reduced concentration and lower productivity in your daily activities, including work.
Relationships, Communication & Self Confidence: There is no doubt that smartphones take much of our attention and often cause people to act in a way that we never usually would in normal social situations. Sometimes we are so distracted by our phones that we ignore partners, friends and family which can result in long term damage to relationships. Recent studies have shown that people are forgetting how to make friends and build relationships in real life which can cause issues at work with a breakdown of communication and lack of ability to resolve conflicts face to face.
Most worryingly, some base their self-worth on people’s opinions of their posts on social media. This lack of self-belief can cause low self-esteem and confidence issues affecting relationships both at home and at work where it can affect the ability of an individual to do their job. For more insights into how social media can affect out mental health watch: The Truth About…Improving your Mental Health, BBC (from the 27th minute of the programme).
Availability 24/7: Another side effect of smartphones is the notion of everyone being available all of the time. We often feelobliged to reply to a work email late at night or respond instantly to a social message because we know the sender expects that we will have seen it instantly.This means we don’t properly ‘switch off’ and relax which can lead to feelings of stress and exhaustion.
Learning & Comprehension: Research shows that our ability to take in and retain information we read on smartphones is inferior to that of reading from hard copy meaning that we are not learning new information in an efficient way.
Mental laziness: Before smartphones, if we were asked a question that we did not immediately know the answer to, we would search deep into the farthest reaches of our minds to retrieve the information.This mental activity both stimulates existing neural pathways in the brain and forges new ones, allowing for fast recall of that information in the future. However, smartphones have allowed our minds to become lazy. We can just type in any question and instantly receive an answer using our device. As a result, the information sharing network of neural connections in our brains becomes under-used and under-stimulated, negatively affecting our cognitive performance.
For these reasons, you may want to limit the use of your smartphone. Consider keeping it on silent most of the day or only checking it at designated intervals, relying instead on your brain to provide answers.
*https://www.businessinsider.com: 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Making Your Life Worse – Jun 2018 & Nutreance Newsletter - Dec 2020
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