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The world is full of people and things that can make you happy, but you have to notice them to get the full effect. Smartphones are technological marvels, but the hold they have over our limited attention is causing us to miss out on more than we realize.

Dr. Laurie Santos finds that even having a phone nearby can reduce how happy you feel. Laurie chats with Catherine Price, a science journalist, founder of and author of How to Break Up With Your Phone.

To learn more. . .

Brian Scholl’s website

Liz Dunn’s website

Catherine Price’s website


Links to references from this episode:

“I’m testing some of the students in my residential college at Yale on an experiment that has become famous in the history of modern psychology.”

Here’s the original video

“When researchers Dan Simons and Chris Chabris originally ran the study, more than half of the subjects failed to spot something right in front of their eyes.”

Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: Sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. perception, 28(9), 1059-1074.

“And Brian’s work on inattentional blindness has shown that we’re missing gorillas all over the place.”

Most, Steven B., Brian J. Scholl, Erin R. Clifford, and Daniel J. Simons. “What you see is what you set: sustained inattentional blindness and the capture of awareness.” Psychological review 112, no. 1 (2005): 217.

 “ Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert showed this in a clever study.”

Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932.

“Over the last decade and a half, chewing gum sales have dropped by double digits.”

Simon, P (2017). Have Smartphones Caused the Death of the In-Store Impulse Buy? Huffington Post, 5/13/2015.

“One study found that 62% of people pulled out a device while waiting in line, and more than 80% of those people whipped that device out in less than 20 seconds.”

Kruger, Daniel J., Ailiya Duan, Dora Juhasz, Camille V. Phaneuf, Vibha Sreenivasa, Claire M. Saunders, Anna M. Heyblom, Peter A. Sonnega, Michele L. Day, and Stephanie L. Misevich. “Cell Phone Use Latency in a Midwestern USA University Population.” Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science 2, no. 1 (2017): 56-59.

“So with a bunch of undergrads here at Yale, we repeated this experiment but we had half of the subjects talk on a cell phone and it was wonderfully awkward.”

Scholl, B. J., Noles, N. S., Pasheva, V., & Sussman, R. (2003). Talking on a cellular telephone dramatically increases ‘sustained inattentional blindness’. Talk given at the annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, 5/13/03, Sarasota, FL. [Abstract published in Journal of Vision, 3(9), 156a

“But Liz is actually more worried about the less hurtful ways we use our phones when around other people.”

Kushlev, K., *Dywer, R. & Dunn, E. W. (2019). The Social Price of Constant Connectivity: Smartphones Impose Subtle Costs on Well-Being. Current Directions in Psychological Science

“We were able to get a local restaurant to let us come in and basically take over one of their tables for many months.”

Dwyer, R., *Kushlev, K. & Dunn, E. W. (2018). Smartphone use undermines the enjoyment of face-to-face interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 78, 233-239. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2017.10.007.

“Other researchers tested whether the simple buzz of a text message interrupts how fun a situation is, even if you don’t pick up your cellphone to take a look.”

Isikman, E., MacInnis, D. J., Ülkümen, G., & Cavanaugh, L. A. (2016). The effects of curiosity-evoking events on activity enjoyment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22(3), 319.

“What we see in our data is that when people have access to their phones during the meal, they do report feeling significantly more distracted.”

Dwyer, R., *Kushlev, K. & Dunn, E. W. (2018). Smartphone use undermines the enjoyment of face-to-face interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 78, 233-239. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2017.10.007.

 “In this study we went out to a science museum in Vancouver, called Science World.”

Kushlev, K. & Dunn, E. W. (2018). Smartphones distract parents from cultivating feelings of connection when spending time with their children. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1177/0265407518769387

“We basically just stuck strangers together in a room for about 10 minutes, kind of like a mock waiting room. And either we took their phones away or left them with their phones.”

Kushlev, K., Hunter, J. F., **Proulx, J., Pressman, S. D. & Dunn, E. W. (2019). Smartphones reduce smiles between strangers. Computers in Human Behavior, 91, 12-16.

“I’m talking to the person the New York Times called “The Marie Kondo of Brains”

Roose, K. (2019). Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain, New York Times, 2/23/2019

 “I am Catherine Price. I’m a freelance science journalist and the author of:

How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life

 “And there were a fascinating series of studies done by this guy, Judson Brewer, where he basically trained a group of smokers in a mindfulness based technique”

Brewer, Judson A., Sarah Mallik, Theresa A. Babuscio, Charla Nich, Hayley E. Johnson, Cameron M. Deleone, Candace A. Minnix-Cotton et al. “Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial.” Drug and alcohol dependence 119, no. 1-2 (2011): 72-80.

The Host

Dr. Laurie Santos

Dr. Laurie Santos is Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman College at Yale University. Professor and podcast host Dr. Laurie Santos is an expert on human cognition and the…