5 March 2015

New research suggests smartphone use associated with lowered intelligence

by Will Parker

New University of Waterloo research that examined people's smartphone habits as well as their analytical, verbal, and numeracy skills found an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence. The three studies, appearing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggest that having convenience at our fingertips is making it easy for us to avoid thinking for ourselves.

Involving 660 subjects, the studies revealed that participants who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their smartphones' search-engine function. Conversely, the subjects who were intuitive thinkers - more prone to relying on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions - frequently used their device's search engine rather than their own brainpower.

"They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it," said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study. "In contrast, analytical thinkers second-guess themselves and analyze a problem in a more logical sort of way. Highly intelligent people are more analytical and less intuitive when solving problems."

The research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence, but; "whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question," added Pennycook.

The researchers say that avoiding using our own minds to problem-solve might have adverse consequences for aging. "Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind," said co-researcher Nathaniel Barr. "Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise. It's important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it's hard to recall what life was like without them. We may already be at that point."

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Source: University of Waterloo