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Paderborn researchers publish study in nature journal on how smartphones affect attention levels

 |  DigitalizationResearchHumanities and Social ScienceKlinische Entwicklungspsychologie

Entertainment, information, social contact – and all pocket-sized: smartphones have long been a central, even fundamental part of our everyday lives. We write emails, place orders, listen to music. However, mobile phones distract us – even when they are just sat on the table, turned off. ‘The trend towards smartphones as a constant presence has a negative impact on attention’, explains Professor Sven Lindberg, head of Clinical Developmental Psychology at Paderborn University. Researchers conducted a study into the impact of smartphones on cognitive faculties, the results of which have now been published in the renowned nature journal ‘Scientific Reports’.

Slow and unfocused

‘The mere presence of a smartphone has an unfavourable impact on productivity, even where there is no interaction with the device. A mobile phone simply being in view, even if it is turned off, affects cognitive performance. Users work in a slower, more unfocused way’, Lindberg explains. According to the researchers, it takes a higher agency to suppress the urge to immediately fiddle with the smartphone. ‘The ability to organize, plan, analyse, and compare past and present actions and to control impulses are described as executive functions. However, the cognitive resources that this requires, or working memory, are vulnerable and limited’, adds Lindberg, who conducted the study together with his doctoral student Jeanette Skowronek.

Smartphone addiction has no impact

‘Thus far, only very few studies have been conducted into the impact of a smartphone that is turned off, meaning that our work could make a significant contribution to existing research’, the researcher is convinced. Lindberg and his team performed concentration and attention tests in the presence and absence of a smartphone with 42 participants aged 20 to 34. As well as recording attention performance, the test subjects were also assessed for smartphone dependence. The results are surprising: individual manifestations of measured smartphone addiction did not affect the outcome.

Information processing is impaired

Lindberg explains: ‘Compared to the other group, test subjects without the presence of a smartphone demonstrated significantly higher attention performance. Taken together, most studies show an influence of a turned-on or available smartphone on attention in the context of high-level attentional tasks, such as switching rapidly between different requirements. The results of this paper suggest that especially the speed of cognitive performance and information processing is impaired.’

According to Lindberg, for tasks that require a high level of concentration, it would therefore be sensible to put the smartphone in a different room to reduce its negative impact on work and attention performance. However, simply covering the screen of the smartphone or turning it off is not sufficient.

The study can be viewed at:

Symbolic picture (Paderborn University)