Smartphones are a distraction. It's something every subway rider and waiting room prisoner knows all too well. Thus far, the jury is still out on what exactly this 24-hour access to addictive distraction is doing to our brains, but there are some experts who believe it is, more or less, making us dumber.
Worse still, new research suggests you don't even need to load up Facebook or Instagram to get dumber. Yep, even push notifications have the power to distract and derail your thoughts.
Scientists at Florida State University put more than 150 students through a test meant to assess their attention levels. Specifically, they were shown a series of single digits on a screen (one every second), and instructed to tap the keyboard every time a new number appeared—unless that number was three.
Here's where the push notifications come into play: Each student performed the test twice. The first time they were left alone, but during the second test, assistants would place a call or text to the students.
Researchers found the students' test performance suffered if they received any sort of audible notification at all—even if they didn't even look at their phone. A simple notification was found to be just as distracting as actually responding to a text message or phone call.
"Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering," explained the researchers in a paper for the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. They can also "disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task."
Ultimately, the study serves to further highlight the importance of being aware of your surroundings. We already know how dangerous it is to text while driving; now it seems even the sound of an incoming text or tweet can be a potentially dangerous source of distraction.