This is What Smartphones Do to Your Brain

New research suggests that some of us are relying on our phones instead of our brains—and it isn't good.

Photo by David Clark/Getty Images

Smartphones can make us physically lazy (wine delivery app, anyone?), but new research shows they might also be making our brains lazy. In the study, researchers tested 660 people, measuring their cognitive style and smartphone habits. They found that people who generally go with their guts when making decisions are more prone to rely on their phones' search engines than their own brain power. Logical thinkers who naturally leaned toward more analytical thinking, however, used their phones to search for answers less often than intuitive thinkers.

"They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it," study co-lead author Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, said in a statement.

Lethargic thinking isn't the only negative effect of smartphones. Research shows that phones may be hurting our health and happiness in more ways than one. Phones could destroy our posture, damage our hearing, cut into our sleep, and may even carry more germs than a toilet seat.

The obvious solution is to unplug, but in a technology-dominated world, that can be a challenge. “Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise,” Nathaniel Barr, the other lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them. We may already be at that point.”

So how can we sharpen our lazy thinking? If we can't quit our smartphone habits, we should at least make an effort to avoid looking at them right before bed. Looking at screens before bed has been connected with less sleep, and sleep is one good way to improve brain power and memory. We can also eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids—think salmon, walnuts, and kiwi—which have been linked with better school performance in children when it comes to reading and spelling. Plus, an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency​ has been linked with several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder and dementia. Another good way to sharpen our thinking is with exercise. Excersise can increase the amount of gray matter in our brains and help get our creative juices flowing. So if you can't break your phone habit, at least try to break a sweat.

And occasionally, ask yourself if you know the answer, phone number, or directions before you instinctively grab for your phone—you might remember more than you give yourself credit for.