Posted on Sep 30, 2018, 10 p.m.
Several studies have suggested that smartphones impact the brain in a variety of ways, but what are the effects? This is a question of concern, given the prevalence of their use today, of great interest to healthcare providers, educators, mental health professionals, parents, and anyone who uses one on a regular basis.
Participants have been asked by various studies to go without using their devices for various periods of times and it was found that breaking the technology habit even for short periods can be exceedingly difficult. A simple walk down the street or into any public venue will show people using their devices for a variety of purposes ranging from conducting business calls, checking email, finding directions on a map, to updating their profile on social media, and watching videos. Smartphones have become an inextricable part of most people’s daily lives, but does this reliance have any impact on the brain?
Research suggests that smartphone use does have an effect on the brain, long term effects have yet to be determined. One study has found young people with internet and smartphone addictions actually demonstrated imbalances in brain chemistry, these findings were presented at the Radiological Society of North America. Another study found that cognitive capacity was significantly reduced in the presence of a smartphone, even when it was off that was published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research
Some experts suggest all of the smartphone use can have an impact on the social and emotional development of children, that it can impair sleep patterns and may turn some people into lazy thinkers. Boston University warn using such devices to entertain or pacify children may have detrimental effects on social and emotional development, commentary can be found in the journal Pediatrics.
Experts suggest that such devices are suggested when they become the predominant method to distract and calm young minds can impair their ability to develop their own internal mechanisms of self regulation; adding that hands on activities and those involving personal direct human interaction are far superior to that of interactive screen games. Such use of mobile devices can become especially problematic when they replace hands on activities that help to develop visual - motor and sensorimotor skills. Many unanswered questions remain on how use of these devices influence child development, such as will overuse interfere with development of social and problem solving skills that are better acquired during unstructured free play and peer interactions.
These devices at bedtime may be interfering with sleep patterns, not because of staying up late to check emails, chat, scroll feeds, or play games; rather the type of light emitted from the device may be messing up your sleep cycle even after your turn it off. Adult participants were asked to read on an iPad 4 hours each night before bed or read printed books in dim lighting, and switch after 5 consecutive nights. Those that read on the iPad before bed were found to have reduced levels of melatonin, it took longer to fall asleep, and they experienced less REM sleep throughout the night. Melatonin production is important as it is a hormone that increases throughout the evening and induces sleepiness.
Blue light emitted by most mobile devices has been shown to be the culprit. Cells at the back of the eyes contain light sensitive proteins that pick up light wavelengths and send signals to the brain’s clock which regulates the circadian rhythms within the body. Typically blue light peaks during the morning helping the body to signal it’s time to get up; red increases at night signalling wind down time. Interrupting this cycle with the blue lights emitted from these devices throws the normal sleep cycle out of whack. Much skepticism exists on the subject, but this is not just a psychological issue, it is also biological; studies show the blue lighting emitted from these devices has profound biological effects. Findings are something to keep in mind next time you are tempted to play with or let a child play with a mobile device in bed due to the possible effects it may have on the brain and sleep, consider a paper book instead.
Mobile devices do more than offer distractions to waste time, these days there is no longer a need to memorize phone numbers, directions, lists, appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, or addresses, all of that information can be neatly stored on the device which can even be set to remind you eliminating the need to remember most things. One no longer has to mull over questions regarding the world around you, now just simply pick up the device and google it. Some experts warn this over reliance can lead to mental laziness. One study has found there is actually a link between relying on smartphones and mental laziness. While these devices don’t necessarily turn people from deep thinkers to lazy, this study does suggest naturally intuitive thinkers who act based on instinct and emotions tend to rely on their devices more frequently.
The issue with relying on the interwebs too much is that you can never really know if you have actually found correct information unless you are able to think about it in an analytical or logical manner. Far too many people believe everything they find is stone cold facts even if it is from a social media status update without actually checking a credible source, common sense seems to be becoming a thing of the past. Research has shown an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence, however whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence still requires further research.
Use of smartphones and mobile devices has outpaced by far the research available on the subject, which is just at the beginning stages of understanding potential short term and long term effects they may have on the brain. These mobile devices are bound to have detriments, but research have yet to fully understand possible ways that they might also benefit the brain, if at all.
Materials supplied by:
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.