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Simply Having Your Smartphone Around Is Draining Your Brain Capacity

Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor By Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition.
This Common "Brain-Draining" Habit Is Killing Your Cognitive Capacity

Digital technology is integrated into our lives—arguably, to a fault. On one hand, our ability to connect to others and access information at any given moment offers new opportunities for our work life, relationships, health, and more. 

On the other hand, the long-term effects of being constantly "dialed in" to infinite information and technology haven't been revealed yet. Dealing with constant stimuli has ushered in an unprecedented attention crisis that can also affect our jobs, relationships, and health in a negative way.

In fact, evidence suggests that simply having your smartphone near you can cause "brain drain," drastically affecting your ability to concentrate on whatever task you're trying to accomplish.

Why our brains have limited cognitive resources.

Our brain is only able to retain a certain amount of information at any particular moment—this is called our "cognitive capacity." Different cognitive tasks require different amounts of our brain's cognitive capacity. 

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Our cognitive abilities and restraints are determined by the availability of our attentional resources—such as working memory (i.e., the amount of information we can mentally hold at any given time) and fluid intelligence (i.e., the ability to solve new problems). 

The thing is, attentional resources are limited, and using them for one cognitive task leaves fewer available for other tasks (and, in turn, reduces available cognitive capacity). Given the overwhelming abundance of information at our fingertips and our brains' limited capacity to process that information, we need to be incredibly selective with how we're allocating our attentional resources. 

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How smartphones are draining our brains.

Say you're sitting in front of your computer, putting together a presentation for your meeting later that week. This task obviously requires quite a bit of your cognitive capacity—you have to include data, provide analysis, and package it in an aesthetically pleasing way. 

You're determined to knock out this presentation as quickly as possible, so you have everything you need right on the screen in front of you (a blank PowerPoint presentation, relevant spreadsheets, etc.). 

There's no reason to touch (or even think about) your phone as you're completing this task. And yet, a 2017 scientific review from the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research suggests that the mere presence of your smartphone in your workspace can distract you from your presentation and limit your attentional resources—even if you're not actively thinking about your phone or phone-related tasks.

After conducting two separate experiments to see just how smartphones affect cognitive performance, researchers determined that simply having a smartphone nearby while you're trying to focus on a task may reduce cognitive capacity, regardless of whether or not you're interacting with it or receiving notifications.

Additionally, researchers found that the more an individual depends on their smartphone, the more likely they are to be distracted by its presence.

How to fight this phenomenon.

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If you're the type of person who's constantly using (or thinking about using) your phone, it might be smart to leave it in a different location while you knock out your to-do list. Trust me, once you start leaving your phone in other rooms while you work on other tasks, you won't even miss it! 

If the thought of being separated from your smartphone overwhelms you, you may want to consider investing in a plastic "phone safe" like kSafe—just set the timer for the amount of time you need to focus on your task to preserve your attentional resources!

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Other ways to support our cognitive health.

Beyond setting healthy boundaries with your smartphone use, there are other things you can do to optimize your brain health and bolster your attentional resources:

The takeaway.

Technology is great, but having our smartphones around when we aren't using them can be seriously distracting (and detrimental to our cognitive performance!). The next time you really need to focus, consider moving your phone out of your line of sight—or even better, out of the room entirely!

For additional cognitive support, consider taking a nootropic supplement that promotes overall brain health and longevity—like mbg's brain guard+ for mental clarity and performance, or mbg’s focus+ for sustained energy (minus the crash) and concentration!*

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