A new Florida State University study claims that whether you are alerted to an incoming phone call or text by a trendy ring-tone, an alarm bell or a quiet vibration, just receiving a notification on your cell phone can cause enough of a distraction to impair your ability to focus on a given task. The level of how much it affected the task at hand was really shocking, said Courtney Yehnert, who worked on the study as an undergraduate student before graduating in 2014.
Psychology doctoral student Cary Stothart is the lead author of the study, which is the first to examine the effect of cell phone notifications on performance, and his co-authors are former FSU postdoctoral researcher Ainsley Mitchum and Yehnert.
The researchers wrote that although these notifications were generally short in duration, they could prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. Cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.
The findings are significant because many public information campaigns intended to deter problematic cell phone use -- while driving, for example -- often emphasize waiting to respond to messages and calls.
Stothart said even a slight distraction could have severe, potentially life-threatening effects if that distraction occurred at the wrong time. Their results suggested that it was safest for people to mute or turn off their phones and put them out of sight while driving. The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance