Publication in: Spring 2023 Issue

The Effect Of Smartphones on Working Memory
Laura Searles
Faculty Mentor(s):
Michael Neelon
Abstract / Summary:
In 2017, Ward, Duke, Gneezy, and Bos reported that a phone's mere presence, even without using it, reduced cognitive capacity because subjects were devoting some amount of attentional processing to the phone. Some studies have successfully reproduced the finding, but others have found inconsistent or opposing results, suggesting that one's relationship to one's phone, or how one uses it, may affect whether its presence is distracting or not. The present study primarily attempted to replicate Ward et al's original finding by having half the subjects keep their phones next to them while they performed a cognitive measure of working memory (the OSpan task),, while the other half were asked to leave their phones in an adjacent waiting room. After finishing the OSpan task, participants completed five questionnaires assessing smartphone related habits and opinions: the Fear of Missing Out Scale (FoMo),, the Nomophobia Scale, the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale (MPPUS-10),, the Young Adult Attachment to Phone Scale (YAPS),, and three phone-related reflection questions. No significant difference on OSpan performance was found between phone-present and phone-absent conditions. Furthermore, previous studies have reported that those with higher levels of phone attachment or dependency perform worse in the phone present group. The questionnaires listed earlier were used to investigate the relationship between the OSpan results and phone use and attachment. The phone present group on average scored lower than the phone absent group, but not to statistical significance. Although numbers trended in the hypothesized direction, the present results fail to replicate Ward et al.’s finding that the simple presence of one’s phone has a “brain drain” effect.
Publication Date: