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BusinessDay: Smartphones are undermining cognitive development

Research shows prolonged smartphone use reduces attention span and concentration.

By Johan Steyn, 5 June 2024


When it comes to communication, entertainment and education, people these days rely substantially on their mobile phones. The younger generation is particularly affected. Nevertheless, there are obstacles to using these devices in the lecture hall, as they can have a detrimental impact on cognitive abilities, attention span and academic achievement of young people.


University of Texas   research shows that prolonged smartphone use significantly reduces attention span and concentration. Keeping a participant’s phone in a separate room improved their results on a concentration test compared with having a phone within reach (even when turned off). Students whose eyes are glued to their phones have a harder time concentrating on their schoolwork, as shown by this “brain drain” effect. This cognitive impairment makes students more prone to fidgeting with their phones throughout class, which lowers their concentration and performance.


Use of smartphones for long periods of time can alter brain anatomy and physiology. According to studies, the parts of the brain that are in charge of executive functioning and cognitive control are the most susceptible to the harmful impacts of overuse. Academic performance and learning are influenced by these alterations because they have a detrimental impact on cognitive function and emotional management. Given the dynamism and evolution of the next generation's brains, this has major consequences. 


A study published in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions found that college students who were overly reliant on technology had impaired cognitive control and performed poorly. Such findings give credence to the idea that these approaches can have long-term results. The necessity for measures to alleviate the negative impacts of excessive smartphone use on attention spans and academic performance was also brought to light by a study conducted by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information in the US.


Young people nowadays are so reliant on their smartphones that they suffer from nomophobia (or NO MObile PHone PhoBIA) — the fear of being without one. Nomophobes say they get more nervous, tense and even sweaty when they're not able to use their electronic devices. Anxiety, depression and stress caused by excessive phone use can take a toll on academic achievement.


The mental and emotional toll of excessive smartphone use in schools necessitates a comprehensive plan to address the issue. Pupils would be more motivated to pay attention in class and when studying if they were not allowed to bring their devices into the house or school. By keeping an eye on their phone use and setting sensible limits, parents and teachers may help children develop good phone habits. 


Software that monitors how much time people spend in front of screens can be helpful. Kids may develop their brainpower for future endeavours by reading, playing sports outdoors and participating in creative, active, and imaginative activities when they don't have access to screens.


Young people’s smartphone use should be strictly regulated. Advice to parents and teachers is to establish firm limits while simultaneously promoting healthy alternatives that foster intellectual and interpersonal growth. One way to lessen reliance on smartphones is to establish specific times and places where no-one is allowed to use them.


Stricter restrictions on smartphone use and greater knowledge of these issues can improve emotional and academic health. We can lessen the negative impact of smartphones on youth by encouraging better behaviours and conscious use.

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