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Easiest Way Ever to Increase Brainpower

They entertain, inform, empower, and connect us. So it’s no wonder we have come to love our smartphones the way we have. Unfortunately, the evidence is mounting that there is trouble in paradise.

Several studies have now demonstrated a strong link between our smartphone usage and numerous negative effects. Our phones, it seems, are making us dumber, more anxious, less creative, and more socially isolated.

These findings from a recent WSJ article by Nicholas Carr can be summarized into 2 main takeaways and one easy fix.

1. Proximity matters. Where your phone is located when you are engaged in cognitive or social activities plays an important role in the negative effects you experience.

“When given mentally challenging tasks, people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off… made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight.”

“… students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones.”

“…those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.”

“The mere presence of mobile phones…inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”

2. Overall dependency makes it worse. The more we rely on our phones, the more likely we are to experience the negative effects of smartphone ownership.

“As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.”

“The more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.”

“Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it… we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally.”

The obvious fix is that we should stop using our phones so much. To be realistic, though, it may be best to step away slowly. If you usually keep your phone beside you while at your desk, put it in a drawer or purse. If you’ve already gone that far, consider putting it in another room or leaving in your car or locker. Agree to a no-phones while socializing pact with friends and family. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but a few steps in the right direction could make a big difference. The added bonus is that implementing these positive changes is free, sustainable, and can start immediately.

For all my current and former students who have had the “pleasure” of experiencing my no-phones’re welcome.

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