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Surprising Science

Performance Goes Down When People are Separated from Their iPhones

Smartphones hold so much of ourselves that if we didn’t have them, part of our minds would become inaccessible. So, what happens when you take someone’s smartphone away?

One could argue that people’s smartphones are an extension of themselves—these devices hold so much of ourselves from reminders for important occasions to phone numbers that if we didn’t have them, part of our minds would become inaccessible, like a focused form of amnesia. So, what happens when you take someone’s smartphone away? Erin Blakemore from the Smithsonian writes on a study that answers just this question.

Researchers from the University of Missouri wanted to know how people performed when their iPhones were taken away from them. So, they found 41 students–quite a small sample–that owned iPhones through a survey on “media usage.” These participants were then put in a cubicle (with their iPhones in tow) to solve a series of word search puzzles. Researcher monitored their anxiety levels, heart rate, and blood pressure during this first part.

The researchers then announced that the participants’ iPhones were causing Bluetooth interference with the blood pressure cuffs, so they had to move their phones. The smartphones were placed nearby, within earshot of the participants. While the participants continued to work on the word search puzzles, the researchers called their phones, during which time they noted the participants’ anxiety levels, heart rates, and blood pressures. There was a “significant increase” in all three and a decline in puzzle performance.

Russell Clayton, a graduate student at the university’s School of Journalism and lead author of the study, said in the paper:

“Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks. Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”

This may help explain why we become so distraught when our smartphones become lost or accidentally left behind when we go to work—a part of us feels like it’s missing. Some have been even reported feeling “phantom vibrations” while away from their phones.

Read more at the Smithsonian

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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