Higher smartphone use is linked to less independent thought

Photo: Atsushi Tomura/ Stringer

The convenience of information and answers instantly available via smartphones is making it easy for us to avoid thinking for ourselves, research indicates.

A study suggests that intuitive thinkers, or those who tend to rely on gut feeling and instinct, frequently use their smartphone rather than their brainpower.

Smartphones, according to research from the University of Waterloo in Canada and published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, allow people to be even lazier than they would otherwise be.

People look up information they actually know or could easily learn but are unwilling to make the effort to think about it.

“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 Nathaniel Barr, a lead author of the paper.

In three studies involving 660 people, the researchers examined cognitive style ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills. Then they looked at the smartphone habits.

Those in the study who demonstrated a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using search engines on their smartphone.

Whether smartphones cause decreased intelligence is still an open question which needs future research.

The researchers say avoiding using our minds to problem-solve might have adverse consequences for ageing.

“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” said Barr. “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.”

The results also indicate that use of social media and entertainment applications generally did not correlate to higher or lower cognitive abilities.

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