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03-30 Are smartphones making people mentally lazy?

Are smartphones making people mentally lazy?

Perhaps part of the reason why texting in social situations seems so disruptive is because no one has come up with a legitimately non-awkward way to get them to stop yet. Finally, however, a new University of Waterloo study has found something that may have some actual influence in mitigating smartphone reduction: finding that excessive use may lead to cognitive laziness.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that despite having unprecedented access to information at any given time, the level of critical thinking involved in smartphone use may be leading to cognitive atrophy in those who become too reliant on internet research. The research team focused on three studies involving nearly 700 participants, examining a variety of measures such as cognitive style (thinking patterns). The investigators reviewed the individuals’ preferred method of information retrieval, ranging from intuitive to analytical as well as verbal and arithmetic skills; after, they compared them with the participants’ smartphone habits.

The results revealed that the participants in the study who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their smartphones’ search-engines. The authors believe that analytical thinkers and those with higher levels of intelligence are more likely to second-guess themselves and thus were more likely to take extra time to analyze a problem logically. The participants who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their smartphones’ search engine function.

“It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them.”said Nathaniel Barr, researcher from the University of Waterloo and lead author of the study. “Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind.”

The data indicated that use of social media and entertainment applications generally did not correlate to higher or lower cognitive abilities, simply changes in the style of thinking. The authors feel that their research provides support for an argument associating heavy smartphone use with lowered IQ. They were quick to admit, however, that the question of whether or not excessive phone use actually decreases intelligence is still up for debate and requires future research.

Intuition and connectivity
Contrasting with analytical thinkers, the members of the test group found to be considerably more disposed to excessive phone use (also suffering the most cognitive laziness) were intuitive thinkers. According to the researchers, intuitive thinkers typically rely on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions, but were frequently using their device’s search engine for questions versus their own mind.

A possible explanation for the trend of intuitive people using their phones more often could be due to a greater need to feel socially connected. If intuitive people really are more likely to make decisions based on emotions versus reasoning as the researchers suggest, it could be possible that they are choosing to use their phones based more on impulsive emotions (i.e., curiosity, loneliness, etc.).

The researchers also suggest that avoiding the exercise of cognitive muscles may have adverse consequences for aging as well, possibly acting as risk factors for neurodegenerative disorders later on.

At times cell phone use can progress past normal levels and become a behavioral addiction or can negatively affect a teens mental health. Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego treatment center provides effective treatment programs for teens struggling with mental health disorder, behavioral health problems such as substance abuse or cell phone addiction and co-occurring disorders. If you would like more information on our programs, feel free to contact us at 866-615-7266.

Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer

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