Shedding Light in the Darkness

Mobile Phones & Cognitive Failure


People who use mobile phones and Internet heavily are more likely to forget things, make blunders and be less aware of their surroundings, according to research by Dr Lee Hadlington of the UK’s De Montfort University Leicester.  In the first academic study of its kind into how our ability to concentrate is affected by Internet and mobile phone use, Dr Hadlington studied 210 people aged 18-65 and asked them to rate their behavior in key areas linked to perception, memory and motor function.

He found the more times a person spent on the Internet or on a mobile phone – even those without Internet access – the more likely they were to experience “cognitive failures”.

These included missing important appointments, failing to notice sign posts on the road, daydreaming while being spoken to and forgetting why they went from one part of the house to another.  Previous research into multi-tasking has found people with excessive online use were less able to filter out irrelevant material and focus on the task in hand.
But this is the first times that both time spent on the Internet and phones has been measured on our daily lives in this way.

“We don’t know what’s actually happening to our cognition when we are using this technology and that’s the important thing,” said Dr Hadlington. “What we do know from this research is that there are statistically significant numbers of people who say they use the Internet or their phone a lot and who experience cognitive failures. We need to understand more about whether it is affecting the way we think. We are almost oblivious to the impact it could have.”

The study asked a sample of people a series of questions designed to determine whether they experienced certain types of “blunders” – defined as factors relating to ability to focus, physical blunders such as bumping into things and memory.

The research has been published in the US journal Computers in Human Behavior.

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