Smart Phones, Attention Residue and ADHD


Smart Phone Use and ADHD


A really interesting article was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looking at symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and digital media use.

Up until now, past research in this area had looked at activities that would be more intermittent in nature, such as watching TV or playing video games. These days, most folks have the luxury of owning a small computer that can be reached for in their pocket at a moments notice.

Estimation on average use across individuals per day varies depending on the study, but are between 40 and 90 checks per day. Facebook, instagram, youtube, web surfing and then all sorts of applications ranging from the fun time sink like Angry Birds to Dating and banking apps.



What The Investigators Found



A small increase risk was found in folks without a previous history of attention problems, categorized as high frequency digital media users, particularly in young males and those with mental health issues. There was also an association between more frequent use and impulsive control. So it seems that there might be a subset of the population who is predisposed to some sort of deleterious effect of frequent smart phone use.


What this means for you


Some recommended reading in this area is Deep Work, by Cal Newport. One of the concepts Newport teaches is that of the attention residue. These frequent quick checks of social media, email, facebook, etc, impact your performance and productivity negatively by virtue of the generation of an attention residue.


Basically, you have brainpower left behind on the activity you just deviated from. So frequently switching between email, social media, and your primary activity hurt the efficiency of your performance and outcome of said activity.


If you think you might fall into the category of folks impacted in this way, something really helpful is to block out a specific time for social media, email and other phone related activities that aren’t as crucial. The research isn’t as clear as to how long this residue effect lasts, but removing these less important activities an hour or so from more important tasks is a good start.


Do you or your family members struggle with attention problems? Have you noticed any relationship to your phone or electronic use?



Further Reading



What an attentnion residue is and how it impacts productivity

Leroy, Sophie. “Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 109.2 (2009): 168-181

Increase risk of new ADHD symptoms, moreso in young males and adolescents with other mental health issues

Radesky, Jenny. “Digital Media and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adolescents.” JAMA 320.3 (2018): 237-239




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