What are the effects of smartphones on the brain? Given the prevalence of smartphones today, it is a question of interest for healthcare practitioners, mental health professionals, educators, parents, and anyone who happens to use a smartphone on a regular basis.If you were asked to go a day without your smartphone, do you think you could do it easily? Researchers who have asked participants to go without their phones for various periods of time have found that breaking the technology habit, even for a relatively short interval, can be exceedingly difficult. Walk into any public venue and you will probably find people using their phones for a variety of purposes, from conducting business calls to checking their email to updating their Twitter. Our phones have become an inextricable part of our lives. But does this reliance on smartphones have any impact on our brains?
Recent research suggests that smartphone usage does indeed have an effect on the brain, although the long-term effects remain to be seen. In one study presented to the Radiological Society of North America, researchers found that young people with a so-called internet and smartphone addition actually demonstrated imbalances in brain chemistry compared to a control group. Another studying appearing in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that cognitive capacity was significantly reducedwhenever a smartphone is within reach, even when the phone is off.
In the commentary appearing in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine took a closer look at the available literature on smartphone and iPad use among very young children. Using such devices to entertain or pacify children, they warn, might have a detrimental effect on their social and emotional development.
Using your smartphone or tablet at bedtime might be interfering with your sleep, and not because you’re staying up late to check your email, scroll through your Facebook news feed, or play a game of Trivia Crack. Instead, some sleep experts warn, it is the type of light emitted from your mobile device’s screen that might just be messing up your sleep-cycle, even after you turn off your device.
“There’s a lot of skepticism out there; a lot of people think this is psychological,” explained one of the study’s authors, Charles Czeisler. “But what we showed is that reading from light-emitting, e-reader devices has profound biological effects.”
The next time you’re tempted to play with your mobile device in bed, think about the possible effect this might have on your brain and your sleep and consider picking up a paperback book instead.
Mobile devices don’t just offer distraction these days. You no longer have to memorize phone numbers or keep a Rolodex on your desk—all that information is neatly stored on your phone’s contact list. Instead of mulling over questions you might have about the world around you, you can just grab your phone and Google the answers. Instead of trying to remember important appointments, meetings, or dates, you simply rely on an iPhone app to remind you of what you need to accomplish each day.
And some experts warn that this over-reliance on your mobile device for all the answers might lead to mental laziness. In fact, one recent study has found that there is actually a link between relying on a smartphone and mental laziness. Smartphones don’t necessarily turn people from deep thinkers into lazy thinkers, but it does suggest that people who are naturally intuitive thinkers—or those who act based on instinct and emotions—tend to rely on their phones more frequently.
“The problem with relying on the Internet too much is that you can’t know you have the correct answer unless you think about it in an analytical or logical way,” explained Gordon Pennycook, one of the study’s co-authors.
“Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence,” said Pennycook. “Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research.”
The researchers warn, however, that the use of mobile devices has far out-paced the available research on the subject. Researchers are just at the beginning stages of understanding the potential short-term and long-term effects that smartphone use might have on the brain. Mobile devices are certainly bound to have their detriments, but the researchers also suggest that we have yet to fully understand the possible ways that they might also benefit the brain.