You can find the paper here

I frequently make the mistake of reading HN comments. Many of the comments on this study had nothing to do with the study. The top comment makes a reference to arcahic bards and the detrimental effects of writing information down. But the paper doesn't address that point. Here I will summarize it as succinctly as possible.

Good facts from the Intro: smartphone owners interact with their phones an average of 85 times a day typical before/after sleep and middle of the night use * 91% never leave home without their phone

Hypothesis: The presence of one's own smartphone may induce 'brain drain'.

Sub-hypothesis: We can model attention by orientation and allocation. This proves to not be as important I think.

Ok, but what is brain drain... 'availability of attention resources even when consumers are successful at controlling the conscious orientation of attention.'


" Consistent with this position, research indicates that signals from one’s own phone (but not someone else’s) activate the same involuntary atten- tion system that responds to the sound of one’s own name (Roye, Jacobsen, and Schröger 2007)"

The exploration concerns: "Because inhibiting automatic attention occupies occupies attentional resources, performance on tasks that rely on these resources may suffer even when consumers do not consciously attend to their phones"

There are other studies which address the active use of phones, as well as studies which address the effects of a phone displaying notifications or ringing. This one will have simply a visible phone.

Hypothesis: "individual differences in dependence on one's smartphone will moderate the effects of smartphone salience on available cognitive capacity..."

Two Experiments:

Experiment 1

In the first experiment three groups of users either

  1. left their phone in the lobby
  2. placed their phone on the table
  3. left their phone in their pocket (or bag)

Then a bunch of tasks were performed. After the tasks the users completed a I need to read up on these tasks to see what they are and how they are measured. survey about how much they thought about their phone.

Working Memory was higher while the phone was in another room. Fluid intelligence was lowest while the phone was on the desk.

Conscious thinking of the phone did not correlate with scores.

Experiment 2

Similar to experiment 1 except with a "stronger test of the proposed impairment-without-interruption effect".

  • Measures cognitive capacity.
  • Uses a behavioral measure of sustained attention.

They ask users to turn off phones or silence completely.

Interesting Result: "Further, the null effects of Power and the Power x Location interaction suggest that decreases in performance are not related to incoming notifications (or the possibility of receiving notifications), ruling out this alternative explanation of the effects found in experiment 1."