New research suggests smartphones are making us cognitively lazy. And, the evidence is still out as to if this will be an issue as we age.

The ubiquitous cellular devices allow us to obtain information without having to retrieve information that is traditionally coded in our brain. Phone numbers, directions, and even recommendations to restaurants are provided with a touch of a finger or upon a voice command.

The study, from researchers at the University of Waterloo and published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that intuitive thinkers are especially disposed to use a smartphone’s convenient features.

Intuitive thinkers typically rely on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions and frequently use their device’s search engine rather than their own brainpower.

Smartphones allow them to be even lazier than they would otherwise be.

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study, and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo.

In contrast, analytical thinkers second-guess themselves and analyze a problem in a more logical sort of way. Highly intelligent people are more analytical and less intuitive when solving problems.

“Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind,” said Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper.

In three studies involving 660 participants, the researchers examined a variety of measures including cognitive style. Investigators reviewed individuals preferred method of information retrieval ranging from intuitive to analytical, and verbal and numeracy skills. Then they looked at the participants’ smartphone habits.

Participants in the study who demonstrated stronger cognitive skills and a greater willingness to think in an analytical way spent less time using their smartphones’ search-engine function.

“Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence,” said Pennycook.

“Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research.”

The researchers say that avoiding using our own minds to problem-solve might have adverse consequences for aging.

“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” said Barr.

“It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them. We may already be at that point.”

The results also indicate that use of social media and entertainment applications generally did not correlate to higher or lower cognitive abilities.

Source: Waterloo University