Education Neuroscience Neuromarketing Social

Having our smartphone nearby already affects our cognitive capacity

telefono y adiccion

We are so dependent on our phones that the mere presence of our smartphone has direct effects on our cognitive ability and efficiency. Although smartphones provide us with the opportunity for constant connection to information and are inexhaustible sources of entertainment and apparent social interaction or even being used for our personal improvement, it seems that they also set us back in a certain way cognitively if they are not used properly. responsible manner.

The mere presence of a smartphone impairs our cognition

However, a study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research (Ward, Duke, Gneezy and Bos, 2017) titled Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity calls into question whether it is all benefits. The results of the experiments of this study from the University of Chicago came to the conclusion that having our smartphone nearby can limit our cognitive capacity, leaving fewer resources available for other tasks, affecting cognitive performance. We are so used to receiving cognitive stimulation or solving problems from the phone source that this sabotages our own resources, and this makes us increasingly dependent to the detriment of our own abilities.

As we say, the study focuses on analyzing the effects of the presence of smartphones on the cognitive capacity and cognitive efficiency of users. To this end, two experiments were carried out, the second of which was designed to explore the moderation of smartphone dependence in these effects.

Experiment 1

OSpan task (mathematical calculation and memorization) was used to measure available attentional resources. Two variables were manipulated: the location of the phone (desk, pocket/bag, other room) and the on/off status of the phone. The results indicated that phone location had a significant effect on performance on the OSpan task. Participants in the “other room” condition showed better performance compared to the “desk” condition. The interaction between on/off status and phone location was not significant.

That is, simply the fact that the phone is close to us, especially if we have it on our desk, or even kept in our pocket, already affects our performance in cognitive tasks. Surely, derived from the process of anticipation, typical of addictions since our brain cannot disconnect from the stimulation and already anticipates that it is available, so cognitive resources are already focused on what it wants to consult: the telephone. In fact, other studies related to addictions demonstrate the release of dopamine even before having the stimulus to which we are addicted, whether it is a substance or a behavior. This, as is normal, limits us cognitively because it impairs attention and concentration.

In this sense, the new regulations of educational centers of schools and institutes in Spain that prohibit the use of smartphones during teaching hours should help improve academic performance. However, this must be controlled in another way since since the telephone does exist in their lives and they have the possibility of accessing it once outside the school context, the anticipation effect could also cause this rebound effect, especially in the next few hours. to have the phones back in their possession. It would be different if this access to the telephone did not exist or if it were really well limited and regulated, which becomes complex. The measure can help reduce dependence on phones but only if their use outside the classroom is also limited and controlled.

It is as if you take away a nicotine addict’s access to tobacco during their work day. If they are already addicted to it, they will probably be more nervous or anxious about going out to smoke once the day is over, anticipating consumption. It can help you end up quitting, yes, but only if it is done as a whole.

Experiment 2

The second experiment sought to explore the moderation of smartphone dependence on the observed effects. A measure of smartphone dependence was included using a 13-item questionnaire. The results indicated a significant interaction between phone location and smartphone dependence on OSpan task performance. Those with high dependency showed a greater impact on the presence of the smartphone compared to those with low dependency.

This study confirms what was mentioned above: dependency has an influence. When the addiction is created, the consequences are greater or more difficult to reverse, so the methods to confront it must not only focus on limiting its use in classes during school hours or at certain ages, but in a more comprehensive way in the whole. of the person’s life.


The study concluded that the presence of smartphones negatively affects cognitive ability , especially working memory and fluid intelligence .

Furthermore, smartphone dependence moderated these effects, suggesting that those who are more dependent experience greater cognitive costs. It was suggested that smartphone separation could be a solution to mitigate these effects.

Implications and conclusions

We have to tend to prevent the use of the telephone from limiting us in what human beings value most: the ability to think, and the ability to have critical thinking so that this lack of cognitive resources makes us more susceptible to misunderstanding the information we provide. We received. Among the implications highlighted by the study are:

  • Psychology of consumption and advertising : The presence of smartphones can influence consumers’ choice strategies, favoring intuitive processing over analytical processing. It creates more impulsive people, who need immediate and poorly reasoned stimulation, despite having all the information in the world. This favors the sale of products to potential consumers who are more susceptible by not consciously or limitedly paying attention. That is, it encourages false advertising .
  • Education : In educational settings, the presence of smartphones could negatively affect academic performance, especially when not in use. They are one more distraction that, even unconsciously, will limit students’ attention to what really matters at that moment: attending to the class explanation and learning cognitively.
  • Intentional Disconnection : Research suggests that intentional disconnection from smartphones may have benefits by reducing digital distraction and increasing available cognitive capacity. From time to time, everyone should detoxify from its use so as not to feel dependent on it. Nothing is going to happen if you leave your cell phone at home for a day.

The article highlights the paradox that, despite the benefits that smartphones provide in terms of connectivity and information, their constant presence can have significant cognitive costs. Smartphone dependence appears to be a crucial factor that moderates these effects. Research suggests that conscious and selective management of smartphone exposure time may be key to mitigating these adverse effects on cognitive efficiency.

Personal reflection of a psychologist on the use of the telephone

In my final year of psychology thesis in 2015, I focused on studying the attentional effects of using social networks through a telephone on our cognitive abilities of concentration or selective and divided attention. I have always been passionate about studying how new technologies influence our human behavior and the consequences, both advantageous and harmful. Nowadays, with the expansion of artificial intelligence, this study must continue to be key to preventing both addiction situations and misuse that end up making us worse, instead of better.

This study corroborates this hypothesis in a certain way and from my evolutionary point of view what is happening is that our brain, which does not evolve at the same speed as technology, requires a lot of time and generations to be able to adapt to the new reality. , leaving a space to optimize our cognitive resources. However, right now perhaps we are taking a step back to be much more operational in the future, when our brain adapts and those cognitive spaces that it does not use now as before, because it is not necessary, take advantage of them to optimize and improve our capabilities. . This will take a while, but evolution and nature are wise and surely in the future we will have new cognitive abilities that today we are not even able to understand.

I have dedicated myself for many years to dissemination and training talks in educational centers in Lugo and other parts of Galicia, placing emphasis precisely on this, on the use of critical thinking towards new technologies and new social networks (which make us believe that they are social but They are not truly natural social networks). This will facilitate the cognitive transition and, above all, the prevention of addiction to these types of applications that keep us hooked and, sometimes, make us look stupider, when in reality they are created to optimize our lives. What’s more, in order to create this article, technology has helped me a lot to generate it faster, more efficiently and better. The problem is not the technology, it is what is inside them, the addictive applications or malicious information.

Let’s use smartphones and technology to improve, wisely.


Ward, A.F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M.W. (2017). Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2 (2), 140-154.

Iván Pico

Director y creador de Psicólogo Colegiado G-5480 entre otras cosas. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales y Máster en Orientación Profesional. Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y Organizaciones. Posgrado en Psicología del Deporte entre otras cosas. Visita la sección "Sobre mí" para saber más. ¿Quieres una consulta personalizada? ¡Escríbeme!

Añadir Comentario

Click aquí para dejar un comentario

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(Español) La Librería de la Psicología

¿Dónde comprar los libros de psicología? Aquí: Grado Psicología (UNED) | Recomendados de Psicología | Todas las categorías | Colección general

(Español) Proyecto e3 – EducaEntrenaEmociona

info@psicopico,com (services and sponsors)