Smartphone presence has negative effects on learning and memory

In today’s digital age, the use of smartphones is on the rise and more so for young people and working adults.

Although most people use smartphones for communication, online learning and work, there are those who use their phones from upon waking up to bedtime. This, according to experts, is a cause for concern. One study reported that young adults reached for their phones 86 times compared to 47 times in other age groups.

Associate Professor Dr Yong Min Hooi of the Department of Psychology and her undergraduate student Clarissa Tanil of the BSc (Hons) in Psychology from the School of Science and Technology at Sunway University had recently completed  a study on the effects of mobile phones on learning and memory among undergraduates. Their research paper “ Mobile Phones: The Effect of its Presence on Learning and Memory” has been published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal.

According to Dr Yong, the aim of their research was to examine the effect of a smartphone’s presence on learning and memory among undergraduates. A total of 119 undergraduates completed a memory task and the Smartphone Addiction Scale (SAS).

Their research has found that smartphone usage is indeed high among university students and that the presence of smartphones (placed next to the individual face-down) is enough to disrupt their performance in a learning and memory task.

“Our results showed that those without smartphones had higher recall accuracy compared to those with smartphones. Further, there was a significant negative relationship between phone conscious thought i.e. “how often did you think about your phone”, and memory recall but not for SAS and memory recall,” she said.

“Phone conscious thought significantly predicted memory accuracy. We found that the presence of a smartphone and high phone conscious thought affects one’s memory learning and recall, indicating the negative effect of a smartphone proximity to our learning and memory,” she added. 

“Smartphone usage is high among students and may have wider negative consequences than originally thought. Students need to learn to ‘wean’ off their phones and engage in other activities such as reading a book or pursue outdoor activities. Unlike the smartphone, a physical book’s presence does not affect our cognitive capacity,” Dr Yong concluded.

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