After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

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Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Tuesday, 23 January 2018
The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Your Cognitive Capacity

An article entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity”, published by Adrian Ward and his colleagues in April 2017, suggests that smartphone owners’ cognitive capacities may be reduced by the mere fact of knowing that their devices are close at hand.

Ward’s study included nearly 800 subjects, all of whom were smartphone users. They were asked to perform a series of tests that required a high degree of concentration in order to achieve good results. In the first experiment, the subjects were divided into three groups. The subjects in the first group placed their phones on the table in front of them, face down; those in the second group kept their phones in their pockets or handbags; and those in the third group left their phones in another room. The subjects who had left their phones in another room achieved significantly better test results than those who had their phones in front of them on the table, and slightly better results than those who had their phones in their pockets or bags.

In the second experiment, the researchers also considered the results in the same tests according to how dependent the subjects said they were on their smartphones. Unsurprisingly, the subjects who said that they were more dependent achieved worse results than those who said that they were less dependent, but only when their phones were on the table, in their pocket, or in their bag.

I think that these results contain both good news and bad news. The bad news is that regardless of whether the phones were on or off, face down on the table or face up, their mere proximity (and hence the possibility of accessing them) was enough to reduce their owners’ cognitive capacities. The researchers’ proposed explanation for this phenomenon is that even if the users were not consciously worrying about the messages that might be coming in on their phones, simply having their phones closed by forced them to make unconscious efforts to inhibit the desire to check their phones, and this effort consumed some of their cognitive resources, which, as we all know, are limited.

The good news may lie in the results of the second experiment, which showed that when their phones were in another room, the people who were most dependent on them achieved results comparable to those of the people who were less dependent. So if you think that you may be a bit too dependent on your smartphone, you want to try leaving it home the next time you go out.

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