New research confirms how disruptive nearby smart phones are, even when they’re not ringing, buzzing, vibrating, or otherwise alerting us to some sort of activity. Data collected by Ward and colleagues indicate “that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. . . . our data suggest at least one simple solution: separation. . . . We therefore suggest that defined and protected periods of separation . . . may allow consumers to perform better not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity.” The effects of the smart phones on cognitive capacity were found whether smart phones were face up or face down and whether they were silent or turned off. The cognitive capacity assessments made were related to “capabilities that support fundamental processes such as learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Design can support the separation that Ward and colleagues suggest, but only if organizational cultures allow people to “park” their cellphones away from their workspaces, etc., and respond to messages left during breaks from other activities.
Adrian Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten Bos. 2017. “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 140-154, https://doi.org/10.1086/691462