The term "ADHD" is thrown around casually when talking about how distracted we are by technology, but now scientists have found a link between constant phone notifications, hyperactivity, and short attention spans in adults.
This is based on the findings of research published earlier this month by the University of British of Columbia, which looked at a group of 221 young people in an experimental distraction setting. The group spent one week with phone notifications on vibrate and phones within reach, and another week with phone notifications on silent while their phones were away. Throughout these periods, researchers measured the productivity and anxiety levels of each individual.
During the week with constant notifications, the group reported a higher level of distraction and anxiousness than they did when their notifications were shut off. The study group also complained about inattentiveness and boredom. None of the individuals studied had actually been diagnosed with ADHD before.
Lead researcher Kostadin Kushlev told VICE that his team hypothesized the results could have gone either way—acknowledging the possibility that shutting off notifications might cause people to check their phone more out of a feeling of uneasiness, or worry about missing a message or email. This, of course, didn't happen: Silence actually made it easier for people to focus on their work.
"It's important to be clear that we're not saying smartphones cause ADHD itself—there's been no research on that," he told VICE. "What can be said is that it can [exacerbate symptoms] of hyperactivity."
Kushlev told VICE that cases of adults who experience symptoms of ADHD or other attention disorders (yet haven't been formally diagnosed) have become more commonplace, adding that it may be because society typically thinks of conditions like ADHD as childhood conditions and don't get properly inspected by a doctor.
"I think, especially for people who weren't diagnosed as kids—ADHD is something we think that affects kids mostly," Kushlev said. "If we start experiencing theses cognitive impairments later in life, we don't jump to ADHD right away."
This year, research out of the Global Web Index found that more millennials than ever not only own smartphones, but are spending an average of 3.25 hours on the internet each day via their phone.
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