Attention new college students: if you use your cell phone on a break from a challenging project, you’re not allowing your brain to recharge, and your performance could tank. That’s according to the researchers behind a new study that appears in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.
The study’s co-authors, Terri R. Kurtzberg and Kang Sanghoon of Rutgers University, gathered 414 college undergraduates and gave them sets of 20-word puzzles. According to Futurity, some of the study participants were given a break halfway through solving the puzzles. They were then told to complete a budgeting task using either their phone, a piece of paper or a computer. Other participants were given no break at all.
Those who used their cell phone during the break had the hardest time going back to completing the word puzzles. Their post-break performance suffered dramatically. “Participants who took a break on their cell phone took 19% longer [to finish the puzzles],” reports Futurity, “and solved 22% fewer [puzzles] than did those in the other break conditions combined.”
“As people are increasingly addicted to their cell phones, it is important to know the unintended costs associated with reaching for this device every spare minute,” the study’s authors said in a statement. “Although people may assume that it is not different from any other kind of interaction or break, this study shows that the phone might be more cognitively taxing than expected.”
A previous study, this one conducted by researchers at the University of Texas in 2017, showed cognitive abilities take a nosedive when our cell phone is within reach, even if it’s not being used. In that study, researchers discovered if we simply leave our phone in another room, our performance will be significantly better than it would be if we kept our phone on our desk or even in our pocket.
“The findings suggest that the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning,” the University of Texas News says, “even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand.”