Want a real break? Put down your iPhone!

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Gaming on iPhone XS
Turns out this isn’t as relaxing as you think it is.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Using your phone during a break from work doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and recoup, according to a new study. It’s like not taking a break at all.

The experiment’s results don’t indicate people should stay off computers when they want a quick rest. Just phones, as these are “more cognitively taxing than expected.”


The study, “Reach for your cell phone at your own risk: The cognitive costs of media choice for breaks,” was done by Sanghoon Kang and Terri R. Kurtzberg of Rutgers University.

Testing how tiring a phone is

They asked 414 undergraduate students to perform a cognitively demanding task: solving anagrams. Some did so on paper, others on computer, and a third group used their own phone.

Halfway through the task, three-quarters of the participants were given a break, but were asked to do some shopping. One group did so with a paper catalog, another group used a full-size computer, and a third sub-group used their phone, regardless of what medium they were using for the primary task. All the other participants didn’t get a break from the primary task at all.

“An overall pattern appeared whereby those who stopped their tasks to take a break on their cell phones fared worse than any other type of break in terms of their subsequent performance, regardless of the main task medium used,” noted the study authors. “Cell phone breaks resulted in the same levels of cognitive depletion as not taking any break at all.”

Kang and Kurtzberg found it interesting that the results were different for phones versus other computers. “Cell phones, because of their addictive nature and high levels of involvement in daily life, may now carry additional levels of magnetism and distraction that make it difficult to return focused attention to work tasks,” they said in their report.

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