Smartphones
We use smartphones, but are we dumber for doing so? Reuters

We've all had that experience in which instead of taking a moment and using our brains to try to come up with an answer to a question, we quickly turn to Google or another search engine on our smartphones to do the thinking for us. A new study is looking at how this behavior makes us lazy thinkers, but the jury is still out on whether our smartphones actually make us dumber. Let's look at the arguments for and against our reliance on smartphones.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo conducted three studies involving 660 participants. The individuals' thinking styles -- whether they were instinctual thinkers who trust their "gut feeling" or analytical thinkers who need to logically break down an answer -- and smartphone habits were analyzed. The studies concluded that more analytical thinkers with "stronger cognitive skills" used search engines less than their counterparts.

"Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence," co-lead author Gordon Pennycook, Ph.D. candidate for the University of Waterloo, said in a statement. "Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research." The researchers note that our reliance on smartphones will likely increase and understanding the implications of heavy usage is important.

Dr. Jonathan Wai, a psychologist and researcher from Duke University, has written extensively on the topic and believes there are many possible advantages to smartphone usage. "I think new technology probably has the most power to amplify the intelligence we already have. It can also broaden our skill sets and our ability to deal with the ever-increasing complexity in our lives -- which is, perhaps ironically, in part, created by new technologies," Wai said.

Technology and smartphones, similar to anything else, can be used for good and bad. In many ways, it's about figuring out the best way of using a smartphone to augment your abilities and improve your life. "One way of thinking about being 'smart' today is whether you can amplify the power of the intelligence you do have in a positive way through the use of new technology," Wai said.

Even Bill Nye does not think smartphones are causing us to be dumber. Instead, smartphones are just the latest example of what humans do -- and do well. "That's what makes a human a human, if we store information outside our bodies. If you put a blaze on a trail, a stripe of paint or ax chop on a tree, it shows other humans where the trail is," Nye said in an interview with Gizmodo.

As for the long-term effects, Wai says this concern remains unanswered but that smartphones have already affected our daily lives. "There’s a great piece in the Onion titled 'Man Who Drinks 5 Diet Cokes Per Day Hoping Doctors Working On Cure For Whatever He’s Getting,' which, of course, is partly meant as a joke but also holds some truth. In this case, the truth is that many of the technologies we are using today have already changed us, for better or worse, but we can’t be sure about the aggregate long-term effects," Wai said.

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