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Why banning smartphones is good for mental health
07:09 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

The Conversation  — 

A ping from the pizza company. A couple of pings from your socials. Ping, ping, ping from your family WhatsApp group trying to organize a weekend gathering.

With all those smartphone notifications, it’s no wonder you lose focus on what you’re trying to do.

Your phone doesn’t even need to ping to distract you. There’s pretty good evidence the mere presence of your phone, silent or not, is enough to divert your attention.

So what’s going on? More importantly, how can you reclaim your focus without missing the important stuff?

READ MORE: Give the gift of tech literacy — not addiction — along with that device

Is it really such a big deal?

When you look at the big picture, those pings can really add up.

Estimates vary, but the average person checks the phone around 85 times a day, roughly once every 15 minutes.

In other words, every 15 minutes or so, your attention is likely to wander from what you’re doing. The trouble is, it can take several minutes to regain your concentration fully after being interrupted by your phone.

If you’re watching TV, distractions (and refocusing) are no big deal. But if you’re driving a car, trying to study, working or spending time with your loved ones, it could lead to some fairly substantial problems.

READ MORE: Why do we still not have waterproof phones?

2 types of interference

The pings from your phone are “exogenous interruptions.” In other words, something external, around you, has caused the interruption.

We can become conditioned to feeling excited when we hear our phones ping. It is the same pleasurable feeling people who gamble can quickly become conditioned to at the sight or sound of a poker machine.

Frequent interruptions from your phone can leave you feeling stressed by a need to respond.

What if your phone is on silent? Doesn’t that solve the ping problem? Well, no.

That’s another type of interruption, an internal (or endogenous) interruption.

Think of every time you were working on a task, but your attention drifted to your phone. You may have fought the urge to pick it up and see what was happening online, but you probably checked anyway.

In this situation, we can become so strongly conditioned to expect a reward each time we look at our phone we don’t need to wait for a ping to trigger the effect.

These impulses are powerful. Just reading this article about checking your phone may make you feel like … checking your phone.

READ MORE: Lies are more common on laptops than phones

Give your brain a break

What do all these interruptions mean for cognition and well-being?

There’s increasing evidence push notifications are associated with decreased productivity, poorer concentration and increased distraction at work and school.

But is there any evidence our brain is working harder to manage the frequent switches in attention?