A widely reported news story suggests that email and phone calls reduce IQ by up to 10 points. At closer examination however, the majority of the headlines do not stand up to scrutiny.
UPDATED: See comments.
Firstly, it is difficult to determine exactly what the findings were, as the report on which the news stories are based seems unavailable, and therefore probably not peer-reviewed.
Certainly, the original press release ends by promoting an HP efficiency product, suggesting this may be part of a wider promotion, and more marketing campaign than serious science.
So, does modern communication really reduce IQ ? From the New Scientist story, it seems that this conclusion was drawn from an experiment where participants were given an IQ test while they received emails and phone calls they were told to ignore. Unsurprisingly, they did better when uninterrupted.
In other words: when distracted, people do worse on IQ tests. Hardly ground-breaking research.
Furthermore, references to a ‘study of 1,000 adults’ seems to be a simple survey, asking when and how often people check electronic messages.
In light of these findings, the conclusion that there is “a nationwide state of Info-Mania” appears comical, whereas comparisons to a study on the effects of marijuana on young adults does nothing except trivialise important work on the cognitive effect of drugs.
Although this may have been a triumph for the marketing professionals, it has come at the price of misleading many people about the effects of communication technology on the mind and brain.
Nevertheless, the advice that the distracting effects of technology are best tackled by switching off is probably sound. It applies equally well to corporate spin.