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Are Smartphones making us stupid?

Posted by: Eve Boynton
25/04/2018

Take a moment to look around you, how many people can you see glued to a Smartphone? When travelling to work in the mornings, I would say on average at least 80% of my train carriage are hunched over, staring at the 5x5 device sitting in the palm of their hand.

But are these devices ruling our lives, and in the process, taking a chunk of our IQ with them? Since the mobile revolution our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds, a goldfish can hold a thought for longer! So what is all this doing to our levels of intelligence?

Recent research by the University of Waterloo in Ontario has supported an association between heavy Smartphone use and lowered intelligence. The study looked at 660 Smartphone users and compared the way in which analytical thinkers and intuitive thinkers used their Smartphones. The research found that intuitive thinkers, those who rely on gut feeling and instinct to make decisions, more often than not use their phone’s search engines to find a solution rather than their own brainpower; whereas the analytical thinkers tended to give more thought to solving problems themselves. Gordon Pennycock, co-lead of the study, said “this means that people may look up information that they already know or could learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it.” So does this mean that Smartphones are making intuitive thinkers lazy? Nathanial Barr, the second co-lead in the research described people using Smartphone’s as “an extended mind.”

Smartphones aren’t just creating lazy brains, they are creating tired brains. Smartphones impact on our ability to sleep and this could lower our IQ by an average of 15 points. Less sleep is also proven to have a detrimental impact on our memory and committing information into memory, which could be why we find ourselves constantly referring to Google for information that we have already come across. Further, continuous sleep deprivation can result in the same level of brainpower loss equal to that of lead exposure.

Psychology Today has reported that 81% of college students admit to leaving their phone on and within reaching distance overnight; this is a massive contributor to sleep disturbance. But although the students are aware of the effects, their fear of missing out on something was more important to them than a good night’s sleep.

Lack of sleep not only impacts on your general intelligence, your emotional intelligence is impaired too; for example you are less likely to be able to defuse a tense situation with less sleep. Alongside our emotional intelligence, our social intelligence is being damaged because we are losing the ability to connect with those around us, including loved ones. Next time you are in a restaurant just take a look around and see how many people are on their phones rather than talking to and interacting with those at the table. This is known as damage to our spiritual intelligence because we are no longer living in the moment which is the foundation for good physical, emotional, social and intellectual function.

But its not just loved ones we struggle with, we are also losing the ability to start up conversations with new people. No one strikes up a chat with strangers anymore, because when alone in a public place, we all divert to our Smartphones so we are becoming more insulated. Have you ever considered that that stranger next to you at a party could have a better job opportunity for you than the anonymous ads on Linkedin. Or perhaps they could be your perfect partner rather than the empty face staring back at you on Tinder.

Constantly being distracted by a Smartphone also reduces our creative intelligence because we are not giving ourselves the time to think, daydream or expand on our ideas and thoughts. This constant distraction means that we are continually multi-tasking when switching between technologies, for example using your Smartphone whilst watching TV. This also lowers our IQ and spreads a weakened thinking across many areas of life. Psychologist Daniel Levitin claims, “Being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task whilst an email is sitting unread in your inbox can actually reduce your effective IQ by 10 points”.

Technology is now so ingrained in our daily lives that we have become reliant on it and find it hard to remember a time without it. Constantly glancing, scrolling and searching on our Smartphones has become a habit that is getting increasingly harder to break. Although the study has demonstrated an association between lowered intelligence and heavy Smartphone use, it is still an open question as to whether or not Smartphones actually decreases intelligence and further study is needed to clarify. The study also indicated that usage of social media and entertainment apps generally did not correlate to higher or lower cognitive abilities. The worry here is that through technology we are beginning to lose a lot of skills and over time, we may begin to lose some of our cognitive abilities as well as our dependence on Smartphones and other devices continually increasing. 

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