People perform better on tests when their iPhone is in their pocket, study finds

Even grown-ups need a security blanket at times to feel — and perform — their best.

And for a new generation of adults, that security blanket is their smartphone.

A recent study of iPhone users ages 18 to 24 found that people perform better on cognitive tests when their iPhones are somewhere nearby — in a pocket or purse — rather than in an opposite corner of the room.

The study, conducted by Russell Clayton of Florida State University, Glenn Leshner of the University of Oklahoma and Anthony Almond of Indiana University, required young adults to complete two word-search puzzles. The participants were told that whoever found the most words would win a gift card.

Halfway through the study, the participants were told to take out their phone and leave it in the corner of the room.

While participants found on average nine words when their phone was with them, they only found six words when their phone was taken away.

The study also found that when participants heard their iPhone ringing but were unable to answer it, heart rate and blood pressure levels increased.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to Dr. Clayton about the study. Here are edited excerpts.

WSJ: Some people say it’s bad to have your iPhone on you at all times, but you found that people perform better when their iPhones are with them. Should we stop trying to discourage people from having their phones on them at all times?

DR. CLAYTON: It’s coming to that point where it’s something we need to accept. The answer isn’t, “Leave your phone at home.” Have it with you, but try to reduce any distractions that it may cause.

WSJ: You found that iPhones can be a major distraction, right?

DR. CLAYTON: Yes, we told all of the participants to remain seated throughout the study. One of the participants actually got up to answer her phone. She couldn’t even remain seated to do the crossword puzzle.

WSJ: How did the study come about?

DR. CLAYTON: As a friend and I were heading to dinner, we had to return home because he forgot his iPhone. He just said he needed his phone, and I felt that was a telltale sign.

WSJ: So the phone is just like a security blanket?

DR. CLAYTON: We no longer see the phone as just a device. Now we see it as a part of ourselves — as a way we communicate.

WSJ: How do you know the test subjects were nervous because they were without their phone? What if they were just nervous about their phone getting stolen?

DR. CLAYTON: They participated one at a time in the controlled laboratory. There was no risk that their phone would be stolen. Indeed, the phone was only a few feet in view from them during separation.

WSJ: So if I’m in a meeting, should I have my phone with me?

DR. CLAYTON: Our results suggest that you should have your iPhone as not to feel a “lessening of self,” but you should have it in silent mode. If you know it’s ringing, your attention will decrease during meetings.

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