SCIENCE
08/20/2015 04:13 pm ET

Smartphone Lovers More Likely To Forget Things, Walk Into People

Stop reading this and go outside!
Credit: Mimi Haddon/Getty Images

Did you forget your wallet at home today? Miss an appointment? Bump into someone on the street? 

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, there's a good chance that you're spending a little too much time staring at your iPhone. 

New research from psychologists at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, finds that frequent users of mobile technology and the Internet are more likely to experience these types of "cognitive failures," which arise from forgetfulness, inattention and a lack of awareness of one's surroundings.

"I was very surprised that both problematic mobile phone use and internet addiction was so strongly correlated to... cognitive failures," Dr. Lee Hadlington, a psychologist at the university and the study's lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It really was an eye-opener."

For the study, the researchers recruited 210 British mobile phone users between the ages of 18 and 65. The average weekly Internet use among the participants was about 23 hours. The participants answered questions about the amount of time they spent using the Internet and mobile devices, and about their behaviors related to perception, motor function and memory. 

The results revealed a significant correlation between the amount of time a person spends using the Internet or their mobile phone and their likelihood of experiencing cognitive failures in their daily lives, including memory errors, physical blunders and daydreaming while others are talking. Women in the study tended to experienced more cognitive failures than men. 

It's not clear whether smartphones are actually causing attentional lapses. It might be the other way around, with people who already have attentional difficulties being more likely to use technology excessively. Or it might be a combination of both, creating a feedback loop. Or, of course, maybe neither thing is causing the other.

Hadlington, however, is convinced that our phones are affecting us more than we'd like.

"Aspects of mobile technology are creating a situation where many individuals, who may be prone to distraction and lack of focus, find the lure of technology too hard to resist," he told HuffPost. 

So -- if forgetting things and committing silly blunders (or just walking more slowly and swerving) are becoming regular events in your life, you might do well to enforce some personal limits on your screen time, perhaps through a weekly tech Shabbat or a longer digital detox.  

"The Internet is great, mobile phones are great, but there is a point at which we need to sit back, log off and really start to think about how technology is impacting on our capacity to focus," Hadlington wrote. "We are always eager to get the new piece of tech -- but not to think about its underlying consequences to our cognitive capabilities." 

CONVERSATIONS