Are Push Notifications On Your Phone Distracting You? Study Shows They're As Attention-Grabbing As Phone Calls

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls takes pictures with his mobile phone during the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris on July 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

It's easy to forget how attuned we are to our smart phones until we don't have them with us. Suddenly, every rustle of your clothing is a phantom vibration, and regular background noise turns into a series of text notifications. Study after study has demonstrated the toll that phones take on the human attention span, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that push notifications could be just as distracting as phone calls. (Full disclosure here: I've checked my phone twice over the course of writing two sentences. Yikes.)

According to Mashable, the study asked 150 students to perform a sustained attentional task: A series of numbers was displayed on a computer screen, with participants being instructed to press a button when they see the number three. It's a simple task, but it also requires your full attention for fear of missing a number. All the volunteers went through the task twice. The first time, they had no interference from their phones, but the second time, they were interrupted by a call or text to their phones from an assistant.

The results? Any time a volunteer received a text, even if they didn't read it, their focus suffered. In fact, any time they got an audible notification of any kind, performance on the test suffered. Basically, as long as your phone makes a noise, whether it's the fart noise your brother thought it would be funny to program as your text tone or a near-silent vibration, the damage is done. 

pulp fiction animated GIF

"Our results suggest that mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device," the authors wrote. They also stated that the effect of notifications is "comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone." 

As if that wasn't disconcerting enough, the distraction can be self-perpetuating. For some, researchers hypothesize, the desire to check their notifications could lead them to "problematic mobile phone use," i.e., checking their phone to the extent of neglecting other tasks. In light of this study's results, it's not exactly a surprise that some claim phone addictions are on the rise in college students. 

phone animated GIF

On the other hand, it's not exactly a sign you should throw out your phone and go off the grid. Can people get addicted to phones? Sure. They can also get addicted to sex, eating toilet paper, and chewing ice. Owning a smartphone doesn't mean you're going to get addicted to it any more than having a significant other (or favorite vibrator) means you're going to get addicted to sex. However, the extensive research showing that smartphones are distracting is something to keep in mind. As usual, the answer probably lies in a happy medium. There's got to be a middle ground between this:

texting animated GIF

And this:

computer animated GIF

So instead of freaking out, maybe just start utilizing the "Do Not Disturb" button. Your BFF's Snapchat of the One Direction tour can wait. 

Images: Giphy (4)

Must Reads