There is a great new study from Bill Thornton out of the University of Southern Maine.
The mere sight of your mobile phone can distract you – even if you are not using it.
They had participants do some tasks that require attention. One was somewhat challenging and the other was relatively simple. In both conditions, half of the participants did the tasks with their cell phones on the table where they were working and half put them out of sight.
So here is the key finding. Even when the phone was not part of the task, wasn’t ringing, wasn’t notifying, wasn’t vibrating, wasn’t even turned on, it was still distracting. Just knowing it was there degraded participants’ performance by an average of 20%. The distraction wasn’t physically interacting with the phone and it wasn’t even the attention required by a conversation or constructing a text message. It was just wondering if anything was going on.
This finding doesn’t surprise me. Attention is a fickle phenomenon. It amazes me how much it can affect our performance. Pieces of your attention (or at least mine) are always allocated to external and germane channels that are not helpful to performance and often severely degrading. You are trying to have a conversation but you can’t help noticing an odd person off in the distance or a conversation going on at the table next to yours at the restaurant. Or even something as trivial as what to have for lunch. It seems to me that at any given time, no matter how important your current activity is, there are probably 10 different things that are taking up some of your attention capacity. 5% on this thought, 3% on that activity, 8% on that memory – it starts to add up. No wonder that the prevalence of adult onset ADD. It is not real ADD in the classic sense, it is just that we can’t really focus on anything. And our addiction to our cell phones is just more distraction.
What do you think? Do you find yourself distracted while at work, out with friends, at meetings, etc by your phone? By what else might be happening in the world that you are missing? Please share.
Image credit: ryan harvey