A massive, massive effect: we would all be distracted all the time.
And a very, very tiny effect: it would be meaningless.
And this is somewhere in between.
But it is a smaller effect than the earlier research has shown.
Parry’s meta-analysis is a preprint, which means that it hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet.
When I talked to Ward about that paper’s findings, he said he was glad there’s now been enough work on brain drain to look at evidence combined together,
and that, overall, Parry’s work reinforces the notion that phones are interfering with our working memory over other cognitive functions such as sustained attention—or what you’re paying attention to consciously.
When you’re doing great at sustained attention, you know, you’re thinking you’re doing awesome because you’re not looking at your phone.
It’s on the desk in front of you, but you’re not paying attention to it, right?
And so that’s showing us no difference in sustained attention.
But that process of not paying attention to it is using some of your working memory capacity.
So that shows up as that significant, significant negative effect on working memory capacity.
Parry thinks that his findings actually raise more questions for further study, such as whether there’s something about the individuals in the past studies that led to a stronger brain drain effect for certain cognitive effects.
For instance, for some people, their phones might be more important to them.
If you’re very involved, and your whole life is mediated through that, the way you’re orientated to its presence is going to be different.
Another factor could be how susceptible a person is to FOMO, or the fear of missing out.
There is an official psychologically validated scale for FOMO from 2013 that Parry says could be used alongside measuring brain drain to see if that influences the effect.
The reality is like, “We’re not going to get rid of our phones. They’re going to be around, and [we’re] probably going to become even more dependent on them over time.”
Like, I just had a kid, and I track every time this kid has a diaper on my phone, right?
Like, my whole life is recorded in this little device. They are just woven into every aspect of our lives.
Knowing that the presence of a phone influences working memory could lead to having more targeted technology harm reduction, or keeping an eye out for that specific effect.
In the end, this meta-analysis indicates we might not have to be super distressed about what a phone in our vicinity is doing to us.
For some people, there still could be a significant brain drain, but for others, it could be more of a drip.
Thanks for listening! For 60-Second Science, I’m Shayla Love.