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Smartphone Use Impairs Focus and Memory

by Beth on June 15th, 2018

In her book, How to Break up with Your Phone, Catherine Price presents research showing the negative impact smartphone use can have on our brains.

In order to focus, our brains have to ignore distractions. This is hard to do because our brains are wired to look for and pay attention to novelty. The links, ads, and apps on our phones make ignoring distractions virtually impossible. And the more we give in to distractions, the more we reinforce the neural circuits associated with a lack of attention. That means the more we read online, the better we become at not staying focused.

Smartphone use also hurts our memory and capacity for deep thought. To start with, every minute you spend looking at your phones is a minute you are not attending to the world around you. So those are memories you won’t have.

Next, what you are paying attention to at each moment is held in your working memory. In order to convert that information into a long-term memory, your brain has to use mental energy to connect the information to schemas, which are networks of other connected memories. The more schemas a memory is connected to, the greater your capacity for complex thought.

Your working memory can only hold a few things at once. When it becomes overloaded, your ability to connect information to schemas is impaired. Smartphone use overloads your working memory, which means it’s harder for your brain to transfer information to long-term memory. So, basically, you are less likely to remember things.

Kinda scary, huh? I’d rather not do something that hurts my focus, memory formation, and ability for complex thinking. On the other hand, I’m not willing to stop using my phone. Instead, I’m working to change my relationship with it. I am trying to be more intentional about when and why I use it.

My first step was to download an app to track my phone use. It’s already helping! It lets me see how much time I spend on my phone and it sometimes asks me if I really want to unlock my screen. Sometimes I do, but other times I realize I’m just bored and I choose to put it away.

How about you? Would you like to change your relationship with your phone?

From → Mindfulness

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