Transitory influence of mobile devices on cognition and behaviour.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


Smartphones are a widespread feature of modern life, with 3.2bn users globally and evidence indicating that the average Western user interacts with their device on around 80 separate occasions each day. A range of activities can be performed on smartphones, such as buying products, communicating on social media, consuming news, video calling, gaming, gambling, and even finding a romantic partner.

A growing field of research aims to investigate the association between smartphone use and behavioural and cognitive outcomes; however, to date, the evidence has been largely correlational. Research here has also generally focussed on the long-term effects of smartphone use, with limited consideration of the possible transitory influences on cognition, which have wide reaching implications for decisions in everyday life given the ubiquity of smartphones. The aim of this PhD is to explore how smartphone interactions may influence cognition and behaviour in subsequently undertaken tasks in both the real and virtual world.

Smartphone interactions may exert a transitory influence on cognition and behaviour in multiple ways. Firstly, intrinsic features of smartphone use may prime certain cognitive procedures, which impact behaviour through short-term carryover effects. For example, evidence from the consumer psychology literature has shown that direct screen touch (versus mouse clicking) influences product evaluation and selection. It can be theorised that the differential evaluations elicited by screen touches and mouse clicks are mediated by distinct cognitive procedures, which are more likely to be recruited again following recent prior activation. Secondly, the near-constant access to vast social and informational networks afforded by smartphones means that our attitudes and decisions are continuously open to a plethora of social influences - such as reputational feedback (through 'likes' and comments), social norms, and intergroup processes. These social processes may have short-term effects on cognition and behaviour across a range of contexts. For example, reading a polarised political exchange on Twitter may make group identity more salient, with downstream consequences on the evaluation of people, policies, and news. Thirdly, repeated pairings of smartphones with particular reinforcers (e.g., social media 'likes', which are associated with activation of reward-processing areas of the brain) may lead to an association forming between smartphones and these reinforcers. Evidence has indicated that the mere presence of a smartphone impairs cognitive performance on tasks requiring executive function - purportedly because finite resources are used to inhibit attentional orientation to the device which is now imbued with a high-reward value.

The research within this PhD will use a series of experimental and quasi-experimental studies within the laboratory and field to investigate how certain interactions with mobile devices can influence subsequent cognition and behaviour, considering outcomes such as impulsivity, reward-seeking, intergroup biases, and attitude change.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2421155 Studentship ES/P000711/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2024 Daniel Fletcher