Smartphones Can Make Us Dumb but Only Temporarily, Study Finds

A new study has found that smartphone use can lead to a temporarily diminished ability to analyze and reason the meaning of information.
Chris Young

A recent study paper, including the results of two controlled experiments, has partially revealed the effects of smartphone use on our intelligence.

The research shows that electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, can, in rare cases, diminish our ability to analyze and reason about the meaning of information. 

Interestingly, this effect was shown to be transient in the new research, which is published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.


A transitory effect

The research seems to suggest that the widely held belief that smartphones make us dumb might be wide of the mark — in fact, Elon Musk would argue that they give us a tertiary layer of intelligence.

The paper says, "the findings of this study suggest that, even in the rare cases where smartphones might alter cognition, this effect is likely transitory."

So smartphones can make us dumb, but only for a short time and in rare cases, if these findings are indicative of the effect the devices are having worldwide.

Testing for lingering effects

In a press release, Peter Frost, study author and professor of psychology at Southern New Hampshire University, said the following:

“Students and I had heard anecdotally how people felt like too much reliance on smartphones was making them stupid.

“We found that there were plenty of studies about how smartphones diminish cognitive processes like attention when the technology is present, but we were curious as to whether there are any lingering effects of technology on brain functioning.”

Smartphones Can Make Us Dumb but Only Temporarily, Study Finds
People are increasingly addicted to their devices. Source: Rawpixel/Pixabay

Three studies

The researchers carried out three studies to examine the impact of smartphones on cognition. In each of the studies, the participants were asked to install tracking software on their phones so that the researchers could keep track of their screen time.

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The scientists assigned different amounts of smartphone usage over different timeframes to various groups. They, then, measured their abilities to analyze and interpret meaning with a Cornell Critical Thinking Test.

“We examined whether continued use of smartphones change the neuroplasticity of the brain in the long run, especially in regards to the ability to delay gratification for longer-term goals, attention and the ability to patiently reflect,” Frost explained to PsyPost.

“In a nutshell, we found that very few aspects of cognition were affected in the long run. We did find that the ability to extract the deeper meaning of information was influenced by heavy, daily smartphone use, but only for a limited amount of time (for about no more than a month after increased use).”

So ultimately, while fears of smartphones affecting our cognition, in the long run, might be unfounded, the researchers still caution against overusing devices. Smartphone addiction is an increasing problem, and the use of the devices can affect your reasoning ability in the short term.

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