Smartphone Notifications Devastate Users’ Concentration, New Study Finds

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Mobile devices have changed the way people work, but is that necessarily a good thing?

According to survey data from 2012 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the majority of users — particularly those under 50-years-old — have found that mobile phones have been helpful, increased productivity, saved time and made them more connected to others.

According to survey data from 2012 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the majority of users -- particularly those under 50-years-old -- have found that mobile phones have been helpful, increased productivity, saved time and made them more connected to others.
According to survey data from 2012 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the majority of users — particularly those under 50-years-old — have found that mobile phones have been helpful, increased productivity, saved time and made them more connected to others.

The “2013 Digital Dilemma” report also found that 76% of surveyed federal agency employees believed mobile devices increased their productivity on the job, that 61% said mobility solutions provide a greater level of communication with coworkers, that 47% said mobile devices facilitated greater collaboration, that 62% said they’ve improved customer service, and that 58% believed their agency could utilize mobile devices better.

Such experiences are likely the reason why about half (50%) of mobile phone owners use their devices as their primary Internet source. Mobile devices are how people get online nowadays.

However, researchers from the Florida State University have found that mobile notifications can seriously disrupt users’ focus, even if they don’t actually pick up the phone to respond to them.

The issue is that mobile notifications break users’ concentration, regardless of whether they actually answer right away. When they hear their phones ping (or feel their phones vibrate), alerting them of a text, an email, a Facebook message, a Tweet, a Snapchat, or what have you, they start wondering who it’s from, and how to respond. This slight distraction takes up valuable “bandwidth” in the brain, and takes users’ minds off the task at hand.

“Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance,” said the study authors.

Study participants took attention-monitoring tests, and were found to be three times as likely to make mistakes when their phones buzzed or rang.

“We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task,” said study authors.

The study found that the level of distraction was comparable to actually answering a phone call or replying to a text. In other words, it doesn’t even matter if users respond to their messages. They’re just as distracted either way.

Not only does this have serious implications towards the workflow and productivity of mobile device users, it means that mobile phones distract people when they’re driving far more than most think.

So although smartphones can make work more productive, it’s best to put them on silent when a serious task needs serious attention.

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