Smartphone alerts ‘causing similar symptoms to ADHD’

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Smarthphones have been blamed for many modern ills, from the moral degradation of our youth to ruining people’s attention span. Now a new study suggests there may be some truth in that latter claim.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that the constant pinging and popping of notifications can create symptoms similar to suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The study isn’t suggesting that phones cause ADHD, rather it warns that the ever-growing intrusion of text messages, email and social media into our lives is increasing inattention and distraction.

The research comes after other studies in the US found 95 per cent of people admitted to checking their phones during social engagements, 70 per cent said they used their phones at work and one in ten even admitted to checking their phones during sex.

Scientists at the university studied a group of 221 students over the course of two weeks. For one week they were told to leave all notifications - light, sound and vibration - on and keep their phones within reach. For the second they were asked to set their phones to a ‘do not disturb’ setting and to keep their handsets out of sight. In both instances, the researchers asked participants to record how often they felt interrupted or distracted.

The results showed that when the subjects had all notifications switched on they reported higher levels of distraction, inattention and hyperactivity than when notifications were minimised. They also said that the loss of focus caused by the interruption negatively affected their productivity and psychological wellbeing.

The researchers insist that this is not the same as developing ADHD, which is a complex neurological condition, but does show some non-sufferers experiencing similar feelings brought on by their phones.

While the researchers said that further tests are needed under alternative conditions, they suggested that the simple act of switching our phones to silent for a few hours could help us all focus a little more and get more done.