'Info-mania' dents IQ more than marijuana
- 14:32 22 April 2005
- NewScientist.com news service
- Will Knight
The relentless influx of emails, cellphone calls and instant messages received by modern workers can reduce their IQ by more than smoking marijuana, suggests UK research.
Far from boosting productivity, the constant flow of messages and information can seriously reduce a person's ability to focus on tasks, the study of office workers found.
Eighty volunteers were asked to carry out problem solving tasks, firstly in a quiet environment and then while being bombarded with new emails and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to any messages, researchers found that their attention was significantly disturbed.
Alarmingly, the average IQ was reduced by 10 points - double the amount seen in studies involving cannabis users. But not everyone was affected by to the same extent - men were twice as distracted as women.
"If left unchecked, ‘info-mania’ will damage a worker’s performance by reducing their mental sharpness," says Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of London, UK, who carried out the study, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. "This is a very real and widespread phenomenon."
Wilson adds that working amid a barrage of incoming information can reduce a person's ability to focus as much as losing a night's sleep.
The study also polled 1100 workers and found many are becoming addicted to modern modes of communications. One in five workers said they would answer messages during a meal or a social engagement, while two thirds admitted to checking emails outside working hours and even on holiday.
Christopher Kimble, from the University of York, UK, adds that the quality of information contained in communications can also be a major problem for workers.
His own research, carried out within a large multinational company, shows that key employees, such as secretaries and IT support staff, can be particularly affected by misleading or incomplete emails. These increase the time required to complete the task, when a short phone conversation would have been much more efficient.