Study: Your smartphone makes you act like you have ADHD

ADHD and Fidgeting

All those notifications about Instagram followers, Facebook likes, Twitter @mentions, Snapchat messages and texts can be distracting. Hell, writing that sentence was distracting—an urgent reminder to check my damn phone already. All of which is to say, anyone with an iPhone understands how technology competes for our attention—but a new study has gone further, linking smartphones to symptoms similar to those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"We found the first experimental evidence that smartphone interruptions can cause greater inattention and hyperactivity—symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—even in people drawn from a nonclinical population," said study author Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia.

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Study: Your smartphone makes you act like you have ADHD
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: M2 Pocket Phone, manufactured by Excell Communications. Displayed with its headphones, leather protective case and user guide, the phone weighs approximately 0.75 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: Rabbit telepoint telephone by Hutchison Personal Communications Ltd, together with park and charge unit. Size of telephone is 400mm by 350mm by 100mm and weighs approximately 3kg. Rabbit was a British location-specific (Telepoint) telephone service backed by Hutchison, who later went on to create the Orange GSM mobile network. The Rabbit network was the best-known of four such services introduced in the 1980's, the others being Phonepoint, Mercury Callpoint and Zonephone. Although Hutchison had been issued a licence for Rabbit in 1989 it took until May 1992 before the service was launched. Telepoint services such as Rabbit allowed subscribers to carry specially designed (CT2) home phone handsets with them and make outgoing calls whenever they were within 100 metres of a Rabbit transmitter. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 08: Mobile cellular telephone model M200 by Siemens AG, with one2one branding, less battery pack, 1991-2000 Dimensions: 190 by 65 by 35mm, weighing approximately 0.5kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: Mobile cellular telephone, mobile Phone manufactured by Motorola, weighing approximately 0.75 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: The Vodac, by Vodaphone was produced between 1991-2000 and weighed approximately 0.5 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 20: Taking mobile phones apart by hand and sorting the pieces for recycling is expensive. This phone was designed by Joseph Chiodo, a researcher at Brunel University in Surrey, to 'recycle' itself. It is made from special metals and plastics which have 'memories' of their original shape. When heated up, they lose their current form and revert to the shape they remember: different parts are triggered to change shape at different temperatures. The phone then �pops� apart, ready for recycling. Pieces can be picked out for reuse and the parts containing toxins can be separated. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
JAPAN - FEBRUARY 15: Launched on the 1st September 2000, the Nokia 3310 featured advanced messaging, personalisation with Xpress-on covers and screensavers, vibra feature, time management functions, voice dialling, picture messaging, predictive text input and games. It also introduced �mobile chat� using the Nokia Friends-Talk service, which allows users to have conversations using SMS (Short Message Service). This is a globally accepted wireless service that enables the transmission of messages between mobile users and external systems such as e-mail, paging, and voice-mail. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE: Shares order are displayed on the screen of mobile phone which uses the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) services for e-trading in a demonstration at the launching of Asia Pacific's first Mobile E-Trading on WAP in Singapore 09 March, 2000. Singapore's leading retail stockbroking firms, Ong & Company Partners, signed an agreement in partnership with SingTel Mobile for for the co-marketing in the e-trading service called iROAM, the first transactional service of its kind to utilize the WAP platform in the Asia-Pacific region. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Roslan RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE: Shown is Sendo International's Z100 multimedia smartphone at a news conference during the GSM World Congress in Cannes, France February 21, 2001. The Z100 phone features a color screen and runs on the Microsoft smartphone platform. The phone also features Microsoft's Mobile Explorer for the Internet, Mobile Outlook, a Windows Media player and USB connectivity. The phone will be on the market in the autumn of 2001. AFP PHOTO/JEFF CHRISTENSEN (Photo credit should read JEFF CHRISTENSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Young girls using mobile phones. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
SEOUL, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: A South Korean model displays a LG Electronic new DMB (digital multimedia broadcasting) mobile phone handsets which can show television broadcasts real time during an exhibition in Seoul on 15 November 2004. The South Korean electronics firm claimed the handsets were the world's first ground-wave DMB mobile phone. AFP PHOTO/WANG JUN-YOUNG (Photo credit should read WANG JUN-YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images)
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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: In this photo illustration the Twitter website is displayed on a mobile phone on July 6, 2009 in London. The social network site started in 2006 in California as a sideline project, but has grown into a global brand becoming one of the fastest growing phenomenas of the Internet. (Photo Illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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(GERMANY OUT) several mobile phones on advertising folders - 01.11.2008 (Photo by wolterfoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: A consumer holds Nokia's new handset the N97, during the Nokia World 08 event in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008. Nokia Oyj, the world?s biggest maker of mobile phones, unveiled a new handset featuring a touch screen and full keyboard to challenge Apple Inc.?s iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd.?s BlackBerry devices. (Photo by Xabier Mikel Laburu/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Israeli people wait to purchase the new iPhone 3Gs at an Apple store on December 9, 2009 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hundreds of people lined up at the Apple Store in Tel Aviv to be the first to purchase Apple's new iPhone 3Gs which is faster than the previous iPhone 3G and has several new features. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Vertu Ascent mobile handsets are seen after assembly at Nokia Oyj's Vertu luxury phone division in Church Crookham, U.K., on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. Vertu, started by Nokia Oyj's then-chief designer Frank Nuovo in 1998, has sold more than 300,000 phones in the last decade and seen 'high double-digit sales growth' since the start of 2010, President Perry Oosting said. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: A Windows phone 7 mobile phone sits on display at LeWeb Paris 2011 at Le 104 on December 7, 2011 in Paris, France. Since beginning in 2008, LeWeb Paris 2011 is the largest technology conference in Europe where Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the tech world gather while often announcing new products. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)
The Instagram logo is displayed on a smartphone on December 20, 2012 in Paris. Instagram backed down on December 18, 2012 from a planned policy change that appeared to clear the way for the mobile photo sharing service to sell pictures without compensation, after users cried foul. Changes to the Instagram privacy policy and terms of service set to take effect January 16 had included wording that appeared to allow people's pictures to be used by advertisers at Instagram or Facebook worldwide, royalty-free. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Apple Inc. iPhone 5C smartphone sits on display inside the Orange SA store in Toulouse, France, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. France's gross domestic product fell 0.1 percent in the three months through September, national statistics office Insee said in an e-mailed statement. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Spice Android One Smartphone on September 15, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Running on stock Android the set is priced economically to target at people buying their first smartphone and costumers in developing world. Google manages the design, development, marketing, and support of these devices while all manufacturing are carried out by partnering original equipment manufacturers. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)
A customer tries the touch screen feature on the new Apple Inc. iPhone 6s smartphone at a store in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. The 12.9-inch Apple Inc. iPad Pro tablet computer was released for sale in stores today and the Apple Pencil is available for order online. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Researchers had 221 students at the University of British Columbia spend a week maximizing interruptions by leaving on all notification alerts and keeping their smartphones close by. They had them spend another week minimizing interruptions by turning off alerts and staying away from their phones. The participants were then asked to complete a survey meant to determine just how inattentive or hyperactive they were during each phase of the study.

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The results were just as you would expect: The students reported being more distracted and hyperactive when they were close to their phones and had notifications turned on. The researchers also found that higher levels of inattention "predicted lower productivity and psychological well-being."

Now, the study is based on self-reports, which means we're only learning that people report feeling more distracted when their smartphones are constantly pinging away—the results don't measure the degree of distraction or hyperactivity. But a prior study out of Florida State University got closer to doing just that. Researchers had participants complete an attention test. In the middle of the task, some of the volunteers received a call or text. Regardless of whether they checked their phones, people who got the call or text did much worse on the test.

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Past studies have also found that schools that ban smartphones see better test scores and that college students spend on average 20 percent of class time on their devices. Researchers have noted that right alongside the smartphone boom, there's been a rise in the number of "distracted-walking incidents" that have landed people in the emergency room.

On the flip side, research has found that while people in the digital age have shorter attention spans, they're also better at multitasking. And while there is plenty of handwringing about how smartphones negatively impact human communication and relationships, research has suggested that technology, namely the internet, also has the ability to increase social connection.

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While the current study links these symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity to ADHD symptoms, this does not mean that smartphones can be blamed for the disorder. "Our findings suggest neither that smartphones can cause ADHD nor that reducing smartphone notifications can treat ADHD," said Kushlev. "The findings simply suggest that our constant digital stimulation may be contributing to an increasingly problematic deficit of attention in modern society."

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