Texting And Studying At The Same Time? Science Says It May Prevent You From Absorbing New Information

If you are finishing up finals, getting ready to start a summer course, or just interested in getting your academic life a bit more together during the next school year, you might want to listen up: recent research has shown that texting and studying at the same time definitely do not mix. Even if you're just texting algebra tips to your friends (which, let's be real, you're probably not), you need to make your study time a no-texting zone. And not just because I'm a killjoy — science says that texting and studying can impair your ability to fully absorb information, thus rendering your entire study session totally pointless.

Scientific research has yielded a lot of quirky tips and techniques that can help you study more effectively. We know what eating fatty fish will help you retain information (studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids improve memory and performance levels for students taking tests) and that maintaining a positive-thinking mindset, varying your place of study rather than sitting in one area all day, and rewarding yourself for small chunks of progress all help us process and absorb material (plus: cookies are a crucial part of studying! Science commands it!)

And you've probably been using scientific study hacks your whole life without knowing it — mnemonic devices, like the kind you use to memorize the order of musical notes or planets, utilize the same brain mechanism that causes songs to get stuck in your head.

But scientific research has also uncovered what can make your studying less effective — and texting tops that list. Because, as it turns out, human beings are easily distracted animals.

Texting And Your Brain: Not A Match Made In Heaven

When it comes to brain science, texting in general has a bit of a bad rep. A 2014 study analyzed the behavior of people who texted while walking, and found — in a discovery unsurprising to anybody who's ever tried to manuever around a text-zombie distractedly hogging the pavement — that texting makes you walk slowly. That problem's so bad that some cities in China have now set up specific "texting lanes" on sidewalks for so that texters don't bump into others and cause injury. The lanes are meant to be a joke, but they've also probably saved a few OMGLOL-ing texters a sharp thwack in the shins.

And a widely publicized 2012 study by the University of Calgary suggested that the more texting you do, the harder you'll find it to learn and understand new words. In the study, a group of frequent texters and a group of people who spent more time reading "traditional" media like books were both shown a series of new vocabulary words. The habitual texters found it a lot harder to try and figure out the meaning of the new words — which is not great news for the future of reading comprehension.

But this latest texting study looks at overall distraction levels — and I'm afraid it just reinforces what your mom always told you: you can't do two things at once. Even if you think you're an awesome multitasker, answering a text while studying keeps you from fully absorbing information.

Why Texting And Studying Don't Mix

You don't have to go put your phone in a titanium-lined locker while you study to ensure your concentration, of course. Studying apps are a booming industry, and you may be one of the many students using Brainscape flash cards or Quizlet to boost your GPA. But new research conducted by actual high school students shows that answering texts while studying significantly impacts your performance when it comes time to take actual tests.

The study, conducted among 16 and 17-year-old students in Pittsburgh, asked volunteers to study new pieces of material and then complete a short quiz. For the first round of quizzes, subjects were allowed to study with no distractions. But in the second round, they were asked to study while also being forced to answer automatic texts sent by a computer program. All the texts sent were questions which required the volunteers to supply answers.

The second test was actually rigged to be slightly easier than the first, so the students were expected to get better grades on it — but they didn't. Because they'd been distracted by texts while studying for the second quiz, the volunteers scored an average of 9 points lower than they had on the first quiz.

What's Actually Going On In Your Brain When You Text

There are, of course, limitations to the study. The sample included only 47 students, the texts were automated and not from a friend, and they asked impersonal questions rather than targeted stuff that would have more personal meaning — all of which could have affected distraction levels. But other studies have shown that even if you're texting your real friends while you study (rather than a computer program), you're still going to have a hard time retaining new information.As part of a 2010 study, half of a group of undergrads attending a lecture were allowed to use their phones, while the other half were required to have them turned off for the duration of the lecture. The texting half did a lot worse on a quiz they took immediately after the lecture than the phone-free students did. And another 2010 study found that college students who responded to texts while listening to a lecture scored 30 percent lower on a test taken immediately afterwards than those who refrained from texting.

So what's actually going on in your skull while you text? Scientists have found that if you're paying serious attention to something, your brain drowns out potential distractions. It literally suppresses stimuli (like a buzzing phone) that aren't relevant to what you're focusing on — so next time someone complains that you didn't hear them calling, you can say, "Sorry, I was reading, my brain muted you." But by allowing ourselves to answer texts while studying, we're pulling ourselves out of that deep concentration mode — and thus not allowing our brains to absorb as much information as we could.

There's an idea floating around that young people are all good multitaskers, able to text/watch Youtube/make Vines of our dogs when we're trying to absorb information for school — but that doesn't actually seem to be the case. So when you're studying, reserve your phones for emergencies or study-based stuff only — or turn them off entirely, for the sake of your GPA. Don't blame me, blame science!

Images: Sodanie Chea/Flickr; Giphy (3)