Think before you reach for your phone, authors of lazy-thinking study say
Published Thursday, March 5, 2015 4:58PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, March 8, 2015 2:56PM EDT
The authors of a recent study linking smart phone use and lazy thinking say the results don’t mean users need to throw away their cellphones, but rather people should think twice before reaching for Google.
The study, from researchers at the University of Waterloo, looked at the smartphone habits of intuitive thinkers -- meaning those who are more likely to rely on a "gut feeling" when making decisions -- and analytical thinkers, who tend to be more intelligent and who analyze problems in a more logical way.
"We thought about the idea that now we have this instantly accessible knowledge base from all of humanity in our pockets at all time," study co-author Nathaniel Barr said. "So it seemed to us that more lazy thinkers might look to their smartphones rather than searching through their own brain for information."
To determine what kind of thinker each participant was, the researchers had participants in three experiments answer vocabulary and numeracy skills tests. They also had them do cognitive tests to determine whether their thinking style was more intuitive or analytical.
For example, participants were asked to consider this question: "A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?"
An intuitive thinker would immediately answer 10 cents. But an analytical thinker would realize that doesn't make sense, and the correct answer was actually 5 cents.
The researchers then asked the participants about whether they owned a smartphone and how often they used its search engine.
Overall, the researchers found a distinct link between heavy smartphone use and lower scores on the tests.
The full results appear in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
In an interview with CTV News Channel, Barr said he knew the results of the study could seem unsettling to smartphone users, but that they don’t necessarily mean it’s time to unplug altogether.
"A lot of people are really nervous about these results, which show that lazy thinking is associated with heavy smartphone use. But at the same time I think we need to temper our concern," he said.
"We really do have powerful tools at our disposal and I think it’s important to think about what the right balance is between internal thinking and external sourcing of information."
Co-author Gordon Pennycook had a similar message.
"It’s OK to use your phone sometimes to solve problems," he said. "What I would argue is that it’s important to also value thinking in an analytical way. So don’t over rely on your phone."
Barr and Pennycook also stressed that more research is necessary to understand the long term effects of smartphone use on thinking.