Smartphones drastically decrease intellectual abilities, according to researchers out of Texas. As well, mobile devices may cause distractions and the inability to focus. These findings have grave implications for educational and medical settings, as smartphones are commonplace in the classroom and—wait for it — the operating room. In fact, at least one patient has already died because of distraction caused by a smartphone.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin concluded that smartphone use during mentally straining activities significantly reduces learning abilities and intellectual capacities. The study consisted of participants taking a mentally demanding computer-based test. Participants were asked to turn off their smartphones and leave them either face down on a desk, in their pockets or bags, or in a different room before beginning the study. The findings indicated that participants who were instructed to leave their smartphones in a different room scored significantly better on the computer-based test than those who left their phones on the desk, and slightly better than those with mobile devices in their pockets or bags. The results hint at possible grave consequences for school and medical settings.
With the constant notification alerts from smartphones, many become distracted and dependent on their mobile devices, resulting in inattentional blindness and even addiction. Inattentional blindness is the phenomena of focusing on one activity while canceling out all other visual input, as noted by the Smithsonian Institute. Due to this canceling of outside input, many become unable to multitask while using their smartphones in the workplace, leading to decreases in both efficiency and quality of work. Smartphones also trigger reward systems in the brain through the release of the chemical dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure, as reported by Psychology Today. Activation of dopamine in the brain may lead to addiction for many smartphone users.
According to the Centre for Economic Performance, a 14.23% increase in grades among low-performing students resulted from public high schools that banned smartphones on campus. Cell phone usage is typically only allowed in the public education setting at the discretion of the teacher, but some schools outright prohibit their use. On college campuses, many professors expel students from the classroom for using smartphones.
Despite these restrictions, according to Harvard University, college students use texting an average of eleven times during class. Many students in the U.S. are addicted to texting and social media via mobile devices, decreasing their abilities to learn new material and concentrate during class.
There is also concern regarding smartphone use by hospital employees in the operating room. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is quite commonplace for hospital employees to utilize smartphones in surgery, despite findings that mobile devices reduce one’s ability to perform well on decision making and mentally tasking activities. Fatalities have occurred from hospital employees becoming distracted by smartphones. During one instance, a medical school resident became distracted by a text message and forgot to properly medicate a patient, leading to the patient’s death. According to the Johns Hopkins University, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. With many medical mishaps occurring it is not implausible to believe that other patients may have died due to decreased cognitive functioning of hospital employees from the distractions of smartphones.
With the possibly detrimental influences of smartphone usage in the classroom and the operating room, public education on the drawbacks of mobile devices is vital. When utilized in moderation, mobile devices offer enhanced educational and social opportunities, as information and communication are accomplished readily through mobile devices. The results from the University of Texas at Austin study demonstrate that smartphones should be used in moderation to prevent adverse effects on student grades, hospital patients, and the general public.