Your Deepest Fear, Confirmed: Your Phone Is Making Your Brain Lazy


If you thought your smartphone was giving you a free pass to be lazy — well, you’re kind of right. (Photo: Getty Images/Peathegee Inc)

A new study confirms what we all probably know deep down, but are afraid to admit to ourselves: Our smartphones are making us lazy thinkers.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, shows that people who are more “intuitive” thinkers than “analytic” thinkers — meaning, they’re more likely to rely on gut feelings to make decisions than to really analyze a problem and figure out a logical solution — are also more reliant on their phones to find information than their own brainpower.

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” study researcher Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, said in a statement.

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For the study, researchers conducted three experiments to see the relationship between smartphone use and “cognitive miserliness,” a term used to describe how “the miserly nature of human cognition” leads us to over-rely on mental shortcuts and simplified problem-solving techniques. The experiments, which included a total of 660 people, involved a series of cognitive tests in addition to questions on smartphone use, specifically minutes spent using a smartphone each day and minutes spent using a the search engine on a smartphone each day.

Each experiment led to the same outcome: ”the tendency to rely on intuitive rather than analytic thinking is related to a modern form of cognitive miserliness whereby information is sought from an external source (i.e., one’s Smartphone),” the researchers write in the study.

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The findings also suggest that “a feeling of uncertainty could prompt one to reach for their Smartphone, rather than engage in more analytic thought,” and that “one might choose not to engage in costly elaborative encoding, as they know that knowledge can be procured externally.” In other words: If we’re remotely not sure about something, we know that it’s easier to just look it up on our phones instead of actually stopping and thinking about the answer for ourselves.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that cognitive ability was linked with less time using  smartphones or the search engines on smartphones. This “ may be reflective of the possibility that more knowledgeable individuals are less likely to require online information search when confronted with a problem in everyday life”; however, they said more research is needed to definitively say that smarter people use their phones (and phone search engines) less.

What do you think about the findings? Do you think your phone is making you lazier and less likely to actually think things through? Tell us in the comments!

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