The Restless Project: Why Your Smartphone Might Raise Your Blood Pressure and Increase Your Anxiety

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Take the iPhone away and heart rates rise. Get the phone back and heart rates fall.

Losing your iPhone isn’t as bad as losing a limb, but it can feel that way, suggests new research from the University of Missouri published recently.

restlessHdr (1)In a paper titled “The Extended iSelf,” researchers built on the theory that people see their cellphones as part of themselves. Phone separation anxiety, something other researchers have called “nomophobia,” or no-mobile phobia, leads to increased blood pressure and heart rate, and decreased performance at mental tasks. It also stoked anxiety in study subjects and a feeling that an important part of themselves was missing.

The study also confirms research I helped direct at Carnegie Mellon University that shows the negative impact of distraction via technology on cognitive abilities. In that experiment, which we reported on in our book “The Plateau Effect” and in The New York Times Sunday Review, interruption by a single instant message led to test score results declining nearly 20 percent.

In the Missouri study, 40 carefully selected subjects were told they were helping research a new kind of blood pressure monitoring device and were asked to take a standard cognitive test. They were then told their iPhone was interfering with the monitor and asked to move the phone across the room.

During a second test, the phone rang, but subjects could not answer. Subjects’ heart rates rose an average of four beats per minute after the phone rang. Their blood pressure also rose, while their test performance suffered.

The study also suggests a kind of security-blanket effect that phones have on their owners. Giving the iPhone back to study subjects resulted in an 11-beats-per-minute heart rate drop.

Only iPhone users were included in the research, so it’s not scientifically valid to apply the study to owners of other kinds of smartphones, though it’s certainly logical.

Being separated from your phone makes you dumber and raises your heart rate and blood pressure. That’s why I think smartphones, and technology in general, are a major contributing factor to the kind of restlessness I’m chronicling in The Restless Project.

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