By Lisa Egan
Jul 7, 2016
Smartphones have made our lives easier and more efficient. They allow us to call people, find directions, and look up virtually anything we want to know within seconds – with a mere touch of the screen.
But are we too reliant on these devices to do things for us? New research indicates that there is a downside to all of this convenience: we are becoming lazier thinkers.
The study, from researchers at the University of Waterloo and published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that smartphone users who are intuitive thinkers — more prone to relying on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions — frequently use our device’s search engine rather than our own brainpower.
In other words, smartphones allow some of us to be even lazier than we would otherwise be.
Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, explains:
“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it.”
Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo, elaborated:
“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.”
In contrast, those who are analytical thinkers tend to second-guess ourselves and analyze a problem in a more logical sort of way. Highly intelligent people are more analytical and less intuitive when solving problems.
The researchers conducted three studies involving 660 participants. They examined various measures including cognitive style ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills. Then they looked at the participants’ smartphone habits.
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-engine function.
Pennycook explained their findings:
“Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence. Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research.”
The researchers pointed out another downside to lazy thinking: avoiding using our own minds to problem-solve might have adverse consequences for aging.
“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” said Barr. “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. We may already be at that point.”
Does it really take scientific studies to show us that there are many ways smartphones make us lazier and and dumb us down? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us probably are already aware of the not-so-positive impacts these gadgets have on our lives.
Do you recognize any of these habits?
We don’t remember phone numbers. Gone are the days when we had to memorize the phone numbers of our close contacts. Now we just go to the contact list in our phone, click on a name, and voila – we’ve got someone on the line. Tip: Be sure to memorize – or least write down and store – important numbers. If something happens to your phone, you don’t want to be stuck contact-less, do you?
We can’t do simple calculations in our heads. Whether it is estimating a tip or sales tax, or figuring out if we have enough cash to buy everything in our grocery cart, we’ve become reliant on a handy tool that comes built in to most smartphones: a calculator. Admit it – you used to be pretty good at doing those simple math problems in your head, pre-smartphone. Tip: Don’t reach for your phone immediately every time a situation that requires everyday math presents itself. Work out the problem in your head. (Feel free to check your math with your calculator, if you must.)
We can’t spell. Autocorrect might make you a lightening-fast texter, but have you developed a dependency on it (and perhaps spellcheck, as well)? Do you take the time to spell out words correctly, or do you rely on your phone to do the work for you? Tip: Turn off the autocorrect feature on your smartphone. See what happens. (I bet it will force you to slow down and THINK, and will prove just how reliant you’ve become on your phone to spell for you.)
We have the attention spans of gnats. How often do you quickly lose interest in an article or video you are viewing on your phone? Do you finish most activities you start, or do you get bored easily and seek out something more entertaining? Are you easily distracted? Tip: Force yourself to finish every article you start to read (yes, including this one – if you have made it this far, congratulations!), or every video you begin to watch.
We are oblivious to what is going on around us. If you haven’t actually done this to someone, you’ve likely had someone do it to you: cell phone tunnel vision causes you walk right into people. Or, someone has tried to speak to you, and you don’t hear them because you are out in smartphone la-la land and are tuning out (intentionally or not) everything and everyone around you. If you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, be sure to observe the people around you the next time you are standing in line at your favorite coffee shop (I’ll bet you a caramel latte that nearly everyone will be looking down at their phones.) Tip: Turn your phone on silent and put it away when you are in public. Pay attention to the people around you, and your surroundings. Email, Facebook, and Twitter can wait.
We don’t have as many real-life conversations. If most of the people you interact with live in your phone, you just might be missing out on genuine, face-to-face communication with your fellow humans. And when you ARE fortunate enough to be sitting with a person or people you care about, pay attention to THEM. Tip: Save cyber-conversations for times when you are not in the physical presence of others. The person in front of you should be your priority. And no smartphones during mealtime – put ’em away!
We don’t sleep as much, or as well. Sleep experts say that having your smartphone in your bedroom while you try to sleep – even if you aren’t actively using it in bed – can interfere with the quality and quantity of your snoozing. Having your phone within reach may tempt you to check your email or social media accounts instead of getting the rest you need. It also can cause you to be hyper-alert to any potential calls or texts that come in. Tip: Don’t bring your smartphone to bed with you. Leave it in another room while you sleep.
We miss out on life. As previously mentioned, walking around with our faces buried in our phones can create a barrier between us and other people. But it also can place a barrier between us and our environment – it can prevent us from fully experiencing everything the world around us has to offer. Are you engaging with and observing your surroundings, the actual world around you…or the cyber-world of your smartphone?
While smartphones do provide us with valuable technology and easily accessible resources, they have downsides of which we should be mindful. As with most things in life, moderation is key. If you find yourself falling behind in any of the areas discussed here, perhaps it is time to take a good look at your relationship with technology and explore ways to find balance.