Stop Searching, Start Thinking

March 9, 2015 Updated: March 9, 2015

With just a few taps or a scroll, you can find the best restaurants in the area and get directions without even thinking about it. But recent research says this convenience is making us lazier.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo conducted a study of smartphone users’ habits, concluding that they frequently rely on search engines rather than thinking for themselves, according to the university’s website news portal, Waterloo News.

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of the study, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo.

In addition to smartphone habits, the researchers examined cognitive style ranging from intuitive to analytical, plus verbal and numeracy skills.

Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence.
— Gordon Pennycook, University of Waterloo

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior says this reliance allows people to be even lazier than they normally would be.

“Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind,” said Nathaniel Barr, a lead author of the paper, and a postdoctoral researcher at Waterloo.

The researchers cautioned that continued reliance on smartphones might have adverse effects as we grow older. Barr said our reliance on smartphones would likely continue to rise, so it’s important to understand how they affect human psychology before the technology gets so ingrained that we can’t remember what life was like without them.