Studying? Put away the smartphone!

At the invitation of Dr. Jay Weitzen, I addressed students in our Electrical and Computer Engineering section of “Introduction to Engineering” this past week.  I truly enjoy speaking with our students, especially those new to UMass Lowell – my goal always being to reiterate the countless opportunities available to students on campus – from finding that ideal career path (NOTE: Career Fair, tomorrow 4:00 – 7:00 PM) to tutoring resources and even catching a great show – while emphasizing the need for students to attend to their studies.  I recounted tips for success that I have summarized in previous blogs, including ensuring that enough time is allocated to classwork and studying.

As we are in the heart of midterms with midterm grades due soon, I thought it appropriate to take a closer look at studying. I was drawn to a recently published study from the University of Texas at Austin in which the researchers examined the impact of smartphones on cognitive ability. The study, published this year in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research (Volume 2, Number 2, 2017), asked roughly 800 participants to complete an exam, that required concentration, while stowing their smartphones during the test according to one of three situations: (1) phones at desks, but turned upside down; (2) phones in nearby handbags or pockets; or (3) phones in another room.  The researchers found that the participants with phones kept in another room significantly outperformed those defined by (1) and slightly outperformed those in (2).  The conclusion was that the mere presence of the phone diminished cognitive activity. (A nice summary of the study can be found in ScienceDaily.) Interestingly, the researchers found that it did not matter if the smartphone was on or off, face-down or not.  The mere presence was sufficient for distraction.

Dean Jim Canning of our Honors College routinely holds study sessions in the library on Saturdays – with no cell phones, smart or not, allowed.  With midterm exams in full-swing, this sounds like sage studying advice for all of our students.