Heavy smartphone use linked to lower intelligence
People who use their search engine - rather than brainpower - to solve everyday problems are lazier thinkers, Waterloo research finds
People who use their search engine - rather than brainpower - to solve everyday problems are lazier thinkers, Waterloo research findsBy Wendy Philpott Faculty of Arts
What’s the name for the largest part of the human brain?
Are you pulling out your smartphone to get the answer from a search engine?
If you are - odds are you could be a lazy thinker and new research from the University of Waterloo indicates there’s an association between heavy smartphone use and lower intelligence.
The research, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests smartphone users who are intuitive thinkers — those people who rely on gut feelings when making decisions — frequently use their device’s search engine rather than their own brainpower.
“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo.
In contrast, analytical thinkers second-guess themselves and solve problems in a more logical way. Highly intelligent people are more analytical and less intuitive when solving problems.
"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 Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo.
In three studies involving 660 participants, the researchers examined various measures including cognitive style ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills. Then they looked at the participants’ smartphone habits.
Participants in the study who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their smartphones' search-engine function.
“Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence,” said Pennycook. “Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research.”
The researchers say that avoiding using our minds to problem-solve might have adverse consequences for aging.
“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” said Barr. “It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them. We may already be at that point.”
The results also indicate that use of social media and entertainment applications generally did not correlate to higher or lower cognitive abilities.
Professors Jennifer Stolz and Jonathan Fugelsang, also from Waterloo's Department of Psychology, are co-authors of the study. Funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the research.
And the name for the largest part of the brain is the cerebrum.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.