Why your phone is driving you to distraction

Whether it’s a beep, a ring or a quiet vibration, just receiving a text alert on your phone can be as distracting as actually using it to make a call or send a message, according to a study.

Knowing that a text or email has arrived in our inbox – even if we don’t actually pick the phone up and read it – significantly diverts our attention from the task in hand, researchers found.

People who received phone notifications while carrying out an attention-demanding computer task were three times more likely to make mistakes, the psychologists from Florida State University said.
‘Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance,’ said the researchers from Florida State University.

‘Cellular (mobile) phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.’
For the study, the researchers asked 166 people to play a computer game in which they had to press a button when certain numbers appeared on screen.

The experiment was divided into two parts. In the first, the participants were asked simply to complete the task, while in the second – although they were not aware of it, participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: call, text or no notification.

Automated calls and texts were then sent to the personal phones of participants in the first two groups without their knowledge that the notifications were coming from the researchers.

The researchers then compared their results to the findings of other studies that explored the impact that actually using a mobile phone had on attention performance.

They found their results were similar, suggesting that receiving a notification but not responding is as distracting as actually answering the phone or replying to a text.

The researchers said people should mute their phones during important tasks, like driving, because knowing that a message has been received takes such a toll on our attention.

‘Simply remembering to perform some action in the future is sufficient to disrupt performance on an unrelated concurrent task,’ they said.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Credit: Sophie Freeman/DailyMail