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April 14, 2015

It is not too smart to over use Smartphones

The Canadian Charger

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The old adage "use it or you'll lose it" may apply to our ability to use our minds, according to new research at the University of Waterloo, which indicates that heavy Smartphone use may result in reduced numeracy skills and problem-solving ability on a variety of tests.

In three studies involving 660 participants, psychology professors Jennifer Stolz and Jonathan Fugelsang at the University of Waterloo found that participants who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their Smartphones.

Meanwhile, they found that intuitive thinkers - those people who rely on gut feelings when making decisions - frequently use the search engine on their Smartphones rather than their own brainpower; and they didn't do as well on numeracy, verbal and problem-solving tasks as the other group.

Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, said it's so easy to look up an answer on a Smartphone that some people don't think about it – they just do it.

Although he said intuition has a great impact on how people solve problems, he also said that intuition can lead us astray.

“For example, analytical thinking (and simply not relying on intuition) is needed to draw novel and creative connections. If I were to ask: 'What is an alternative use of a brick?' an intuitive person might say 'to throw through a window' (this is something that comes to mind for most people); but an analytical person might say 'a mock coffin in a Barbie funeral' (a more atypical response).”

He added that people who are used to using their Smartphones more often may be at a disadvantage when they come across a problem they can't Google.

Mr. Pennycook said their studies indicate that people who forgo effortful analytical thinking because they can use their Smartphones instead may also be less likely to remember the information they got from their Smartphones.

"Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their Smartphones as an extended mind,” said Dr. Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo.

Mr. Pennycook said that to use the brain's power you have to be able to think in an analytical way to solve problems. “In an analogy to the car, thinking analytically is the way you push the gas pedal,” Mr. Pennycook said.

He added that although much more research is needed, “The brain is like a car that can go at high speed.  A Ferrari can go at high speed; but if my grandmother is driving it, it won't go at high speed. To use the brain's power you have to be able to think in an analytical way to solve problems. One particularly daunting possibility is heavy Smartphone use over many decades may have a negative effect on the brain as people age. Keeping an active mind appears to be important for healthy aging, and the Smartphone may be an impediment to keeping an active mind (at least for some.”

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