Smartphones shaping brains

Photo credit: U.S. News & World Report

Photo credit: U.S. News & World Report

By Kayla Britt, MS&T Editor

Every new advent of technology – the telegraph, the landline phone, the Internet – has shaped the human brain in unique ways. But researchers believe that the latest piece of technology, the smartphone, is different.

University of California, Santa Cruz psychologist Benjamin Storm links this to the vast quantity of information we now have easy access to.

In one study, college students were given a mix of easy and hard trivia problems to answer. Half the students answered the question independently while the other half used their smartphones.

In a later study, the participants were asked basic questions. The students who were asked to use their smartphones in the first study were more likely to continue to use their smartphones in the later study, even though the questions were easy to answer.

This could indicate that perhaps people are relying on technology when normally they would be relying on their memory and what they know.

However, researchers say that right now we cannot make absolute statements about the impact of technology on memory.

While some think that technology is having a detrimental effect, others have found mixed or no effects.

Other researchers have highlighted the impact of the smartphone on attention. Studies have shown that dividing attention between two tasks can negatively impact short and long-term memory, reaction time and perception.

With constant notifications, texts and updates popping up on our smartphones we are constantly being pulled in different directions. One study indicated that one half of college students unlock their phones more than 60 times per day.

And when we are honed in on our phones, we fail to be attentive to the world around us.

A study showed that when students in a lab study have their phones taken away, but put where they can still hear the notifications, their focus on a reading comprehension task declines and anxiety spikes.

On the flip side, one study shows that there is a positive correlation between mental health and moderate smart phone use in teens, indicating that limited smartphone use could be a beneficial.

Either way, one thing is for sure: our brains will never be the same.


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