More frequent smartphone checking behavior is associated with greater incidences of daily cognitive failures, according to new research published in the British Journal of Psychology. However, the new findings also indicate that some forms of screen time are actually associated with reduced cognitive failures.
There are concerns that smartphone use is related to the phenomenon of daily cognitive failures. Research has suggested that frequent smartphone use can lead to cognitive overload and decrease attentional control, which may contribute to cognitive failures such as forgetfulness, distraction, and mind wandering. Additionally, smartphone use can be highly distracting and interruptive, which may interfere with the ability to focus and complete tasks.
“This is a very interesting topic given that smartphone use has become ubiquitous in recent years and has dramatically changed the way people communicate and access information,” said study author Andree Hartanto, an assistant professor of psychology at Singapore Management University.
“It has been suggested that smartphone use may have negative effects on our cognitive processes, leading to daily cognitive failures such as forgetfulness and difficulty in paying attention. However, the evidence is mixed. Given the widespread use of smartphones and the potential impact on daily life, we believe that it is important to examine the relationship between smartphone use and cognitive failures rigorously with a better methodology using a daily dairy approach with objective measures of smartphone use.”
The study examined the relationship between smartphone use and cognitive failures in a sample of 181 iPhone users from a local university.
The participants first completed a baseline survey that collected baseline data such as age, sex, monthly household income, and subjective socioeconomic status. The participants then completed a daily diary study for seven days. Screen time and smartphone checking for seven days were objectively tracked using the inbuilt iOS Screen Time Application Programming Interface.
The incidence of daily cognitive failures was assessed by the 13-item Cognitive Failures in Everyday Life Scale, in which the participants indicated whether they had experienced cognitive failures such as leaving tasks unfinished due to distraction, failing to remember the right word to use, or unintentionally allowing their mind to wander.
Participants also reported each day whether they had experienced any of seven types of stressors (discrimination, work/education stressors, network stressors, arguments, avoided arguments, stressors at home, and others) and completed daily assessments of positive and negative affect.
The researchers found that daily smartphone checking predicted higher levels of daily cognitive failures even after controlling for age, sex, monthly household income, subjective socioeconomic status, daily stressor exposure, daily positive affect, and daily negative affect.
“We found that on days where individuals engaged in more smartphone checking, they were more likely to experience cognitive failures, when compared with days when they engaged in less smartphone checking,” Hartanto told PsyPost. “This suggests that smartphone excessive smartphone checking is a distracting behaviour that increases cognitive load and thus cognitive failures. This is something that we should be mindful especially when engaging in activities that require full attention such as driving.”
But total smartphone screen time was not a robust predictor of daily cognitive failures. The researchers found that daily cognitive failures were only significantly predicted by smartphone screen time for social-related applications and tools-related applications, but not for spending-related applications, entertainment and games-related applications, health-related applications, and other applications.
Interestingly, the incidence of daily cognitive failures was negatively related to smartphone screen time for social-related applications and tools-related applications. In other words, participants were were less likely to experience cognitive failures on days when they spent more time on social-related applications or tools-related applications.
“These results suggest that some type types of smartphone use can temporarily benefit one’s cognitive functioning,” Hartanto explained. “For example, tools-related applications, such as calculator and Google Maps, may help in helping individuals momentarily offload cognitive resources, thereby freeing up mental capacity to work on the task at hand.”
“The finding is surprising and highlights the complex and interconnected relations between smartphone use and cognition. A smartphone is a tool, and just like any other tool, it requires us to be mindful and smart in its usage. This way, we can optimize its benefits and minimize its potential drawbacks.”
The study, “Smartphone use and daily cognitive failures: A critical examination using a daily diary approach with objective smartphone measures“, was authored by Andree Hartanto, Kristine Y. X. Lee, Yi Jing Chua, Frosch Y. X. Quek, and Nadyanna M. Majeed.