Do smartphones make us dumb? Study says they drain our brains

smartphone generic

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Smartphones are designed to make life easier by giving us instant access to anything and everything. But experts warn they could also negatively affect our brains.

Is today your best friend’s birthday? Check Facebook.

Need directions? Fire up the GPS.

Your smartphone makes these tasks — and about a million others — nearly effortless.

“Checking emails, responding to messages, school. It’s incredibly useful,” one smartphone user said.

More and more research suggests that this digitally-lightened mental workload may cost you.

A study from the University of Texas at Austin shows that even when people aren’t using them, simply having smartphones nearby compromises your ability to think and perform other tasks — something researchers call “brain drain.”

Full study – Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

During the UT at Austin study, researchers found that someone’s ability to hold and process data significantly improved if his or her smartphone was in another room while taking a test. Participants who kept their phones on the desk during the same test scored lower.

But can we really buy into the hype?

“I think there’s times it could come as a distraction but is it making us dumber? I don’t think so,” said Dr. Adam Earnheardt, Chair of Youngstown State’s Department of Communication.

He believes smartphones actually help our brains work differently and are valuable tools. For instance, people don’t have to remember phone numbers if they’re stored in a contact list.

“Whenever you’re looking at your phone, you may not be retaining that information but at least you have that supercomputer in your hand and you’re able to access it,” Earnheardt said.

On the flip side, researchers say the nonstop buzzes and beeps may throw your brain into overdrive.

Then there’s all of that “antisocial” social media.

“I miss the human interaction that we used to have,” Marah Morrission said.

“Everyone just kind of stays behind screens all the time so there’s not as much interaction but I think that just having access to so much information is really vital,” Jordan Unger said.

So maybe it’s all about how we integrate our phones into our lives.

“So that it’s not distracting and it’s actually helpful,” Earnheardt said. “I think a lot of people actually turn to their phones now for help and it’s actually helping them be better human beings and get through the day.”

According to Nielsen research, millennials aged 18 to 24 make up 98 percent of smartphone owners. Add another ten years and that number only drops 1 percent. GenXers aged 35 to 44 make up 96 percent of smartphone owners, meaning this technology is nearly universal among generations.

“It helps our social skills as much as people think it hinders it,” Maria Santana said. “We talk about what we’re feeling and the information we’ve seen.”

“I know people like me, I want to be on my phone often but you almost don’t actually use it for the knowledge all the time,” Brandon Maffitt said.

It’s about learning to manage your cell phone use, which could mean putting it away for periods of time or just turning it off completely.

“It’s not so much dumber as it is making us more distracted. So, of course, it’s going to take time for us to kind of catch up and figure out what the norms are,” Earnheardt said.

The Huffington Post list several tips to help you break your smartphone addiction:

  • Set aside a specific time for off-work internet usage: Give your body and mind a break from the screen and any notifications or alerts
  • Use an app to control your usage: Apps like RescueTime and AppDetox suggest the amount of time you should spend on an app or website if you don’t have the willpower
  • Uninstall the most addictive apps: Removing apps removes the temptation to check them every other minute
  • Put away your phone before sleeping and don’t use it as an alarm clock: Keep your phone out of reach when you’re in bed and use a real alarm clock to prevent you from checking your phone first thing in the morning
  • Keep “no phone” areas in the house: Banning phones from the dining room, for example, will remove the pressure to stare at a screen instead of engaging with others