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Dr. Russell Johnson, Michigan State University - The Harmful Effects of Smartphones

Smartphones are certainly convenient. But, is the use (and overuse) of these technological marvels also having harmful side effects?  

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Russell Johnson, professor at Michigan State University analyzes the negative consequences smartphone use may have on human psychology and physiology.

Dr. Russell Johnsons is an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business. His widely published writings focus extensively on the psychology of the workplace. Dr. Johnson received his Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Akron.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Russell Johnson - The Harmful Effects of Smartphones

Smartphones are tremendously useful for helping employees fit work activity into times and places outside of the office, but does this connectivity come at a cost? We suspected it might, because smartphones are perfectly designed to disrupt people’s sleep and recovery at night. For instance, it is easy for people to keep their smartphones close at hand while in bed, where they are continually notified of incoming messages via lit displays, beeps, and buzzing because smartphones are rarely powered off.

These characteristics of smartphones are harmful for both physiological and psychological reasons. From a physiological perspective, the blue light given off by smartphones interferes with the production of sleep-promoting hormones, making it difficult for people to fall asleep. From a psychological perspective, this ever-present connectivity prevents people from sufficiently detaching from work, which is necessary to replenish their mental resources.

My colleagues and I conducted two studies in which we examined the effects of smartphone use for work at night on people’s sleep and recovery. In the first study, we surveyed a sample of managers multiple times per day for 10 consecutive work days. The managers reported how long they used their smartphone for work after 9 PM, how long they slept that night, their mental fatigue the next morning, and their job engagement. We found that smartphone use had a detrimental effect on people’s sleep quantity, and led to greater mental fatigue and disengagement from work the following day.

We replicated these findings in a second study involving non-managers, but this time we also measured how long people used laptops, tablets, and television. Interestingly, although all of these devices ate into people’s sleep time, smartphone use had the largest effects on mental fatigue and disengagement from work the following day.

Although they are an invaluable tool for work, smartphones can also have a paradoxical effect of interfering with employee recovery and productivity.

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