Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Volume 2, Number 2 | April 2017

Aug 02, 2017
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We all understand the joys of our always-wired world—the connections, the validations, the laughs … the info. … But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs.

“The proliferation of smartphones represents a profound shift in the relationship between consumers and technology. Across human history, the vast majority of innovations have occupied a defined space in consumers’ lives; they have been constrained by the functions they perform and the locations they inhabit. Smartphones transcend these limitations. They are consumers’ constant companions, offering unprecedented connection to information, entertainment, and each other. They play an integral role in the lives of billions of consumers worldwide and, as a result, have vast potential to influence consumer welfare—both for better and for worse.

The present research identifies a potentially costly side effect of the integration of smartphones into daily life: smartphone-induced “brain drain.”… Consumers who were engaged with ongoing cognitive tasks were able to keep their phones not just out of their hands, but also out of their (conscious) minds; however, the mere presence of these devices left fewer attentional resources available for engaging with the task at hand.

As educational institutions increasingly embrace “connected classrooms” (e.g., Petrina 2007), the presence of students’ mobile devices in educational environments may undermine both learning and test performance—particularly when these devices are present but not in use. Future research could focus on how children, adolescents, and young adults are affected by the mere presence of personally relevant technologies in the classroom.”

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