Your phone is distracting even when you’re not using it

New research shows just having a phone in their line of sight hampered test subjects’ attention

Woman getting distracted by her phone

(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

Put the phone down, and keep it out of sight. According to research from the University of Southern Maine, the mere presence of your phone—even when you’re not using it—can be distracting.

The researchers had two groups of participants complete two versions of attention-testing tasks: one simple and the other challenging. Participants were presented with a page of 20 rows of single digit numbers singly spaced. The less challenging task required “digit cancellation” where each row of digits was preceded by a “target number” that the participant was to circle and then proceed to cross off each time that number appeared in that row. They then moved onto the next row with a different target number.

The more challenging task was an “additive cancellation” task where each row of digits was preceded by a target number that the participant was asked to circle and then proceed to cross of any two adjacent numbers that “added up” to their target number.

One group was told to leave their phones on their desks, whereas the other group had their phones stowed away. The study’s authors found that the phone-less group performed better on both tasks—especially the more challenging one—compared to the group who had their phones out. The participants who had hidden their phones got an average of 26 correct answers compared to the group with their phones out, who got an average of 21 correct.

In other words, just having your phone in your line of sight can be distracting, lead to reduced attention and hamper your performance during a task, especially for tasks that require more attention and concentration. So when you say you’re going to give a task, or a person, your undivided attention, put your phone out of sight—and out of mind.