Simply Being Near A Phone Found To Be Distracting

Just having a mobile phone nearby can affect your cognitive ability, especially if you seldom use the internet.

AsianScientist (Jan. 12, 2017) – The mere presence of a mobile phone made undergraduate students more distracted, even when the phone was not their own. These findings, by researchers from Hokkaido University, have been published in Japanese Psychological Research.

Although most are aware of the dangers of using mobile phones while walking or driving, how the presence of such devices affects cognitive functioning is not well studied. In the present study, Associate Professor Jun-ichiro Kawahara and Mr. Motohiro Ito of Chukyo University measured the effect of mobile phones on the ability to pay attention in 40 undergraduate students.

The participants were split into two groups: a mobile phone group and a control conditions group. For the former, the researchers placed a mobile phone (that did not belong to the participant being tested) next to a computer monitor, asked the participant to search for a target character among other characters that appeared on the monitor screen, and then measured the time it took to search for the target character.

For the control group, a memo pad of the same size as the phone was placed by the monitor, and the same experiment was conducted. Thereafter, participants were asked about how frequently they use and how attached they are to the internet.

The researchers found that participants next to a mobile phone took longer to find the target character than the control group, indicating that they were automatically distracted by the presence of the phone which impaired their cognitive performance. This effect was more pronounced in people who infrequently use the internet.

Interestingly, they found that heavy internet users were not distracted by the phone and instead were quicker to notice the target when it appeared on the side of the monitor where the mobile phone was placed. These results suggest that the influence of a mobile phone on the subject’s cognitive performance differed depending on the degree of their internet usage.

The researchers hypothesize that people are automatically drawn to the presence of a mobile phone, and there are individual differences in how one attempts to ignore it.

“The mere presence of a mobile phone was a distraction among infrequent internet users. However, among frequent internet users, the device might have served as a spatial cue from which their visual system starts searching the target,” said Kawahara.

The article can be found at: Ito & Kawahara (2016) Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search.


Source: Hokkaido University; Photo: Pixabay.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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