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Your smartphone distracts you even when you aren't using it

Smartphones are practically ubiquitous in our society. As many as 77 percent of adults in the United States used a smart phone in 2016, and that number will probably increase in coming years. The average smartphone user interacts with the phone more than 2,500 times a day, between clicking, swiping and searching.

You may think that as long as you aren't actively operating your phone when you're driving, you're being safe. In reality, a smartphone can impact your reaction time and perception even when you aren't logging into social media, reading emails or checking your most recent text.

Out of sight, out of mind

Some vehicle safety professionals recommend powering down your phone before entering your car or even placing it in your trunk until you reach your destination. That may seem overzealous, but it may actually be a good choice. Recent studies on the impact of smartphones on cognition, memory and functional intelligence indicate that your smartphone impacts your brain even when you don't have it in your hand, aren't looking at it, or thinking about it directly! The more dependent you are on your smartphone for daily life, the bigger the potential impact it could have on your brain.

Physical separation is key to ending smartphone "brain drain"

Adrian Ward of the University of Texas at Austin led a team of researchers looking into how smartphones were impacting undergraduate students. The findings were shocking.

Although smartphones can help people solve problems and connect with important information, like directions to a meeting, they also negatively impact cognition. The scientists involved called that impact "brain drain," a phrase that makes it clear the impact was not a positive one. Study participants who turned their phone off or placed it face down had lower scores for memory, focus and problem solving.

Those who had to leave their smartphone in another room scored better in all three areas. The researchers did not see a correlation between actively thinking about the phone and poor scores. This led them to conclude that the very presence and availability of the smartphone has an impact on the cognition of the user.

The "dumbing down" phenomenon thanks to smartphone obsession

Those who self-reported as more dependent on their phone were more likely to have poorer scores than those who didn't depend on smartphones for daily life needs.

For those hoping to minimize driving risks associated with smartphones, this study offers valuable insight. Just putting your phone in your purse or the center console will not eliminate the negative impact it has on your ability to drive safely. Your best option is to place the phone in your trunk when driving. That way, you have access to it in case of an emergency but are less likely to suffer from "brain drain" due to its presence.

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