Aug. 9, 2017 | By Robinson Meyer
A smartphone can tax its user’s cognition simply by sitting next to them on a table, or being anywhere in the same room with them, suggests a study published recently in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. It finds that a smartphone can demand its user’s attention even when the person isn’t using it or consciously thinking about it. Even if a phone’s out of sight in a bag, even if it’s set to silent, even if it’s powered off, its mere presence will reduce someone’s working memory and problem-solving skills.
These effects are strongest for people who depend on their smartphones, such as those who affirm a statement like, “I would have trouble getting through a normal day without my cell phone.”
But few people also know they’re paying this cognitive smartphone tax as it plays out. Few participants in the study reported feeling distracted by their phone during the exam, even if the data suggested their attention was not at full capacity.