How Your Smartphone Is Making You Lazy

Written by Emi Boscamp

The saying "You're only as smart as your dumbest competitor" has gone long out of fashion. Something more suitable for today's gadget-driven world would be: "You're only as smart as how quickly you can use your smartphone."

We've all done it: Some random fact slips from our mind, but instead of struggling with it for even just a moment at the tip of our tongue, we Google it. It's just easier.

Unfortunately, though, having all the world's information at your fingertips could be making it easy for you to avoid thinking for yourself, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo found that smartphone users who are intuitive thinkers — more likely to rely on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions — frequently use their device's search engine rather than their own brainpower. Mobile devices are allowing them, and maybe even causing them, to be even lazier than they would otherwise be.

"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-author of the study, in a press release.

In the three studies with 660 total participants, the researchers examined multiple measures including cognitive style, ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills. They then looked at the participants' smartphone habits.

They found that participants who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think analytically spent less time using their smartphones' search-engine function.

"Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence," Pennycook said. "Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research."

But researchers believe that when we turn to our phones for problem solving instead of using our brains, we're speeding up the process of deterioration on our minds that comes with aging.

"Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise," said co-author Nathaniel 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."

While that tip-of-the-tongue feeling may not be pleasant, it's much better for you than the tip-of-the-finger reaction, so let your mind marinate just a little longer before reaching for your phone.

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