February 1, 2023

Scientists say cell phones mess with our working memory

In 2017, a discussion arose about the potential consequences of the smartphone for human cognition. The question remains current, as many are distracted by the phone, checking the device all the time during important tasks, which should be uninterrupted, for example.

At the time, the researchers raised the “brain drain hypothesis,” which says that the mere presence of a mobile phone nearby actually affects cognition, particularly working memory or the mental system that helps maintain information about what is being done at the time.

Other studies have also focused on the brain drain hypothesis and mainly analyzed five cognitive functions: working memory, attention, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and fluid intelligence. However, experts in the field comment that of the five separate analyses, the only statistically significant outcome was working memory.

For the other four cognitive functions, no statistically significant effect of smartphone presence was observed. Researchers did find a negative effect on working memory, but no detrimental effect on attention. As a result, the effect on memory has come to be seen by the scientific community as something much smaller than the initial studies had indicated.

The current findings raise more questions for further study. It is necessary to take into account, for example, that for some people a smartphone is more important than for others. So this effect can be directly related to the person’s interference with the phone, so to speak.

Anyway, the point the experts make is that we’re not going to throw our phones away. They will be there and we will likely become more dependent on them over time. But knowing that phone presence affects working memory can lead to more targeted technology harm reduction or monitoring of this specific effect.

It is necessary to closely monitor this issue, because, according to scientists, Excessive use of social media can harm the mental health of young people, for example. Thus, the cell phone can be harmful, as it is mainly used for this purpose.

Source: Scientific American