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Cell Phones & Distractions

Cell Phones & Distractions

Cell phones have been rising in popularity as we move into more technologically-advanced generations. Not only have cell phones become more popular, but the urge of making a presence on social media has been growing as well. The internet is now accessible on our mini computer devices, and it is becoming easier to be attached to them as we carry on our day-to-day routines. Admittedly, our cell phones are also great for communicating to the outside world and they can play an important role in all forms of communicating. Whether communicating with your friends and family, or your coworkers and supervisors, your cell phone enables you to connect to the outside world with a click or a tap. Cell phones obviously have their positive attributes, but they have also earned a reputation for being distracting.

Last semester, I conducted a research project to see just how distracting cell phones can be. Since it is difficult to measure distractibility of cell phones, I had two different tasks that participants were going to complete with two parts to each task (A and B). I had two groups for my independent variable. The first group had their cell phones present in the top right corner of their desk while they completed these tasks, and the second group had their cell phones put away where it was not visible while they did the tasks. The two tasks were the “Digit Cancellation” task and the “Trail Making” task. These two tasks had different directions for each and the first task was made to be easier than the second task. Because it is so difficult to measure distractibility, I chose these tasks because they focus specifically on sustained attention. My hypothesis was that the participants in the “phone present” group would perform worse on the second part of both tasks than those in the “phone absent” group. Since this was my first time conducting an in-depth study independently by going around into different college classes, there were many limitations and the results did not necessarily come out the way I had hoped, but the point of my study is to show that cell phones are distracting in environments that require an individual’s full attention. There is literature that strongly suggests that cell phones can influence a person’s performance on tasks that require complete focus. After learning what worked and what didn’t work in my previous study, I plan to do another study on cell phone distraction for my Senior Thesis class this semester. I plan to look at eyewitness memory and cell phone distraction.
Bottom line — research and literature have shown that cell phones, Internet use, social media use, etc. can be distracting to an individual. Even if the distraction has an individual’s attention for only a few seconds, the amount of time it takes someone to get back on task outweighs the amount of time someone was initially on task (Thornton, B., Faires, A., Robbins, M., & Rollins, E., 2014). This can hinder productivity in many different environments. The next time you decide to pick up your cell phone in the middle of class, work, an important meeting, etc., really take a second to think; is this worth my attention?

Thornton, B., Faires, A., Robbins, M., & Rollins, E. (2014). The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone May be Distracting. Social Psychology, 45(6), 479-488. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000216