Smartphones are making us stupid, study says

Remember at school, when teachers would say that we’d need to be able to do mental arithmetic and think for ourselves when we got older? They clearly didn’t anticipate smartphones. Now we have a calculator and encyclopaedia in our bag/pocket at all times, and a tablet or laptop for when it’s charging. But it turns out that probably isn’t a good thing for our brains. In fact, it looks like smartphones are making us stupid.

As Psych Today reports, researchers from Waterloo University in Canada investigated the effects of smartphones on our brains. And the results were not encouraging. They surveyed over 600 people about their phone usage and tested their verbal and numeracy skills, and whether they were intuitive or analytical thinkers.

They found that people who tended to think analytically (which correlates with high intelligence) Googled things the least. Meanwhile, intuitive thinkers, who rely more on feelings than facts when making decisions, were far more likely to use their phones to find information rather than trying to work things out themselves. Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study (which was published in Computers in Human Behavior), says, ‘Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence.’ Ouch.

Traditionally, we’ve had to remember phone numbers, directions, and that seven times nine is 63, but smartphones mean our brains don’t have to work to store that information anymore. The researchers are now wondering if the fact that we’re using our brains less is going to increase the chances of memory issues and cognitive decline as we age.

More research is needed to find out if that’s the case, but to be on the safe side we should probably all try to think without the help of our phones on occasion. Or at least think about thinking without them.

Diane Shipley