Is your smartphone dumbing you down?

If your smartphone could speak its mind, this is what it would say:

“I’m with stupid.”

We all know that our mobile devices can distract us from tasks such as driving, or even walking. But now a growing body of research suggests that just by having them with us, they diminish our intelligence.

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And the closer it is at hand, the more they dim our bulbs.

“Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources,” according to a new report.

“Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking.

“The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight” … only magnifies the mental toll.”

Now, any yahoo with an internet connection can find a study that says just about anything. But on the theory that our phones are dragging us down toward moronism on a near-constant basis, there’s a wealth of research to say it’s so.

It’s easy to believe that phones can handicap our intellect temporarily through distraction — we’ve all experienced it, and a 2015 report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology bears it out, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

“When people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier — whether they check the phone or not,” the WSJ reported.

“Another 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.”

In fact, it appears that your phone doesn’t even have to do anything, and it can still hamper your brain function. Researchers tested 520 UC San Diego undergrads, giving them one test that measured the ability to focus on a task, and one assessing ability to solve an unfamiliar problem.

“The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones,” according to the WSJ.

“Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.”

The results? Students whose phones were visible to them performed the worst, those who kept them in their pockets or bags came out in the middle, and the highest scores came from those whose phones were in a different room.

“As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased,” the paper reported.

As might be expected, a follow-up study concluded that students most reliant on their phones suffered the greatest “cognitive penalty.”

More research, from Maine, supported the results from the San Diego studies.

“People who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight,” according to the WSJ, which noted that the groups performed similarly on a set of easier tests.

And this year, a report in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology presented the results of research into a 160-student lecture class at the University of Arkansas.

“Students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones,” the paper reported.

“It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly.”

It may even be that the less brilliant the noggin, the greater the benefit of separating phone and self, the WSJ report suggests.

“A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.”


Photo:  Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new iPhone 7 during a September 2016 event to announce new products, in San Francisco.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)


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  • Lafayette Escadrill

    When I’m with friends I turn off my phone. I think it is rude to be yakking on the phone and ignore the people that I’m with.