Monday, August 26th, 2019

Are our Smartphones Afflicting Us All With Symptoms of ADHD?

Published on May 14, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

Social_network_-_by_JClks

Disinfo

When was the last time you opened your laptop midconversation or brought your desktop computer to the dinner table? Ridiculous, right? But if you are like a large number of Americans, you have done both with your smartphone.

Less than a decade after the introduction of the first iPhone, more peoplereach for their smartphones first thing in the morning than reach for coffee, a toothbrush or even the partner lying next to them in bed. During the day, with a smartphone in our pocket, we can check our email while spending time with our children just as easily as we can text a friend while at work. And regardless of what we are doing, many of us are bombarded by notifications of new messages, social media posts, breaking news, app updates and more.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this pervasiveness of smartphones is making us increasingly distracted and hyperactive. These presumed symptoms of constant digital stimulation also happen to characterize a well-known neurodevelopmental disorder: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Could the pinging and dinging of our smartphones be afflicting even those of us not suffering from ADHD with some of that condition’s symptoms? As a behavioral scientist, I set out to test this idea in a well-controlled experiment.

Studying digital interruption

My colleagues and I recruited 221 millennials – students at the University of British Columbia – to participate in a two-week study. Importantly, these participants were recruited from the university’s general participant pool, rather than from a population of students diagnosed with ADHD.

During the first week, we asked half the participants to minimize phone interruptions by activating the “do-not-disturb” settings and keeping their phones out of sight and far from reach. We instructed the other half to keep their phone alerts on and their phones nearby whenever possible.

In the second week, we reversed the instructions: Participants who had used their phones’ “do-not-disturb” settings switched on phone alerts, and vice versa. The order in which we gave the instructions to each participant was randomly determined by a flip of a coin. This study design ensured that everything was kept constant, except for how frequently people were interrupted by their phones. We confirmed that people felt more interrupted by their phones when they had their phone alerts on, as opposed to having them off.

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