Are Smartphones Dumbing Us Down?

You may have suspected that your beloved smartphone is making you a little less smart, and it’s not just paranoia or natural memory loss associated with aging.  A recent study, published in the journal Memory, reveals that relying on technology like smartphones to keep dates, addresses, phone numbers and countless other bits of information stored and at our fingertips is having an impact on our cognitive abilities.

With devices always in hand, we often jump from task to task without taking the necessary time to properly store information in the brain, knowing that we can always access it at a later time.  In fact, we are getting so reliant on search engines to find information, we don’t even try to access the facts stored in our own minds.  And just like any other part of the human body, when we don’t use it, we start to lose function.  With so many distractions in one little hand-held device, we can’t properly engage with the book we are reading, the person we are talking with or the movie we might be watching.

According to a recent post on Oprah’s website, there are steps you can take to improve your memory and start more fully participating in each moment.  Co-author of the 2016 study, Adrian Ward, PhD, encourages putting devices away out of sight when not in use or turning on the Do Not Disturb mode to avoid distracting interruptions.  Smartphone users can change setting so they won’t miss urgent notifications but won’t have their screens constantly blowing up with group chats and emojis.

It’s all too easy to connect with others through social media and skip getting out in the world but personal interaction is important to feeling connected with our communities and can have a direct impact on cognitive function and memory.

Handwriting may be a lost art for some of today’s youth but the act of writing out lists or notes with pen and paper can also help memory.  Handwriting requires a bit more thought and effort but taking the time to jot down thoughts or to-do lists can help the brain hold on to information.  It we pay undivided attention when working memory is processing information, we have a better chance of being able to recover it, at least until the brain decides whether or not to store it in long-term memory.

The last piece of the puzzle to improving memory is getting adequate and restful sleep.  Turn off screens an hour before bed and charge devices out of arm’s reach so you won’t be tempted to check them when you should be sleeping.  The brain consolidates memory during sleep; creating a bedtime ritual that is quiet and calming will improve sleep and overall health.

Read more about the hazards of smartphones for the brain by following this link to Psychology Today.