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Your smartphone addiction is very real, and may be seriously debilitating

When it comes to nationally shared compulsive behavior, checking our smartphones may rise to the top of the list. Now that our phones have effectively become an extension of ourselves, pressing the home button on your smartphone probably feels about as natural as taking a breath, and being separated from our devices can be tantamount to losing a limb (or something).

As it turns out, so deep-seated is our dependency on our smart phones that a recent study has shown that we actually perform better on cognitive tests when our phones are nearby (even if we’re not using them) compared to when they’re out of sight or far away. Talk about a co-dependent relationship.

Russell Clayton of Florida State University, Glenn Leshner of the University of Oklahoma, and Anthony Almond of Indiana University made their latest discovery about human behavior and cell phones by giving 40 iPhone users between the ages of 18 and 24 two different word-search puzzles and asking them to don wireless blood pressure cuffs. Throughout the activity, they were also asked to report their levels of anxiety and “how unpleasant or pleasant they felt during the word search puzzle.” Participants were incentivized by the promise of a gift card for the person who found the most words.

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But after the first puzzle, the researchers introduced a twist — informing the iPhone owners that their mobile devices were causing “Bluetooth interference” with the blood pressure monitor, the participants were asked to remove their cell phones from their person and place them in a far corner of the room. And while the now phone-less puzzlers were working on the second word-search, researchers called the participants’ phones.

As it turns out, “The researchers found a significant increase in anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure levels, and a significant decrease in puzzle performance when the participants were separated from their iPhones as compared to when users completed similar word search puzzles while in possession of their iPhones.”

In fact, while participants were able to find an average of nine words while physically close to their phones, they were only able to find an average of six once their mobile devices were taken away.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Clayton noted, “We no longer see the phone as just a device. Now we see it as a part of ourselves — as a way we communicate.” And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though this will change any time soon. “It’s coming to that point where it’s something we need to accept,” Clayton said. “The answer isn’t, “Leave your phone at home.” Have it with you, but try to reduce any distractions that it may cause.”