Using a mobile phone to take a break during mentally challenging tasks does not allow the brain to recharge and results in poorer performance, says Terri Kurtzberg, associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers University, USA and co-author of a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions (August). Researchers analysed 414 college undergraduates who were asked to solve sets of 20 word puzzles. Some were given a break halfway, during which they were told to choose three items to buy within a specific budget, using either their cellphone, paper circular or computer. The participants who took phone breaks experienced the highest levels of mental depletion and were among the least capable of solving the puzzles afterwards.
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“The act of reaching for your phone between tasks, or mid-task, is becoming commonplace. It is important to know the costs associated with reaching for this device during every spare minute. We assume it’s no different from any other break — but the phone may prompt increasing levels of distraction that make it difficult to return focused attention to work tasks,” says Kurtzberg.