Technology May Harm Decision-Making Ability

Some people view their smart phones, tablets and portable electronic devices as a way to make them more efficient and effective. Others view them as an essential lifeline, or even an addiction, that they can’t imagine living without. While the connection between cell phones and other electronic gadgets and a rise in distracted driving accidents is well established, the full impact of these devices is still being researched. Recent research indicates that the constant interruptions and the brain’s reaction to both interruptions and the potential for future interruptions may be having a negative impact on our ability to complete mental tasks. Basically, phones and other gadgets might be making us less intelligent.

Subjects in the study were asked to perform a cognitive skill test. Various groups of participants were given varying levels of interruption. One group was left undisturbed. Other groups were warned that they might be interrupted at any time by an instant message. Of these groups, some were interrupted and some were not. The research was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

The groups that experienced an interruption performed 20 percent worse than those that did not suffer an interruption. While the interrupted groups improved their performance when asked to complete another test, and were again interrupted, the performance was still significantly worse than those who were left to concentrate.

A cell phone call or text message takes your concentration off the important task of driving safely. But even when you are not actively texting or talking, that interruption might be harming your ability to drive. Reducing distractions is a vital component to avoiding car accidents. The study provides further evidence that it is best to turn off or at least silence your cell phone when you are behind the wheel.

Source: The New York Times, “Brain, Interrupted,” by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, 7 May 2013