From the Lab: Play Games on Your Smartphone

After a disaster, play games on your smartphone.

That’s the takeaway from a recent study as summarized by Art Markman in Psychology Today.

In the study, researchers tracked cell phone use following a major earthquake in China in 2013. What they found was that while everyone felt a similar level of threat shortly after the event, those who spent more time using “hedonic” (i.e., pleasurable) apps on their smartphone—like games and music players—recovered more quickly than those who used them less.

While some may dismiss this strategy as simply “numbing the pain,” sometimes that’s exactly what people in pain need. And while the experience of public speaking is nowhere near that of surviving a natural disaster, it’s likely that the same recovery strategy will work. Therefore, if you find yourself feeling particularly stressed after a communication “disaster,” it may be beneficial to pull out your smartphone and play some games or listen to music until you calm down enough to debrief it more rationally.

From the Lab: Put Away Your Phone (Redux)

Previously, I’ve written about the negative effects of cell phones on interpersonal communication, and advised that while speaking, you should put your phone away.

According to a new study at UT Austin, there are even more reasons to do this: in addition to harming relationship quality, trust, and empathy, having your cell phone nearby can reduce working memory and intelligence.

The following graphs illustrate the effect. Compared to having your cell phone in the other room, simply having it on the desk in front of you can reduce your working memory capacity by an astounding 10%, and your fluid intelligence by 5%. In the case of working memory, just having your phone in your pocket or bag can have a significant negative effect as well (though in the case of intelligence, the effect is no longer significant). So whenever you’re presenting (or doing anything important), be sure to put that phone away!

From the Lab: Put Away Your Phone

In a 2012 study, Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein found that the mere presence of a cell phone in the room with two people sharing a meaningful conversation significantly degraded their relationship. When a cell phone was present, the pair reported lower relationship quality, less closeness, less trust, and less empathy—despite the fact that the cell phone wasn’t even theirs! (A later study clarified that the cell phone must be noticed to have an effect—the issue here is distraction, not some magical wireless juju.) These findings were later replicated in a real-world study of people in coffee shops. Of course, a recent study suggested that the vast majority of us have already noticed this effect of cell phones ourselves. Furthermore, another study found that the mere presence of a cell phone can be a distraction from other kinds of tasks as well, impeding performance on tasks requiring sustained attention.

While many speakers lay their phones on the table in front of them, this research suggests that there can be serious consequences for doing so—both in terms of how your audience views you, and how they receive your presentation. Given the power that cell phones have on us, it’s a good idea to put yours away, and if possible, to get your audience to do the same.