Emails 'pose threat to IQ'

Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King's College, London University, has done some research suggesting that emails, text and phone messages have a negative impact on IQ. In fact the average IQ loss in the studies commissioned by Hewlett Packard was 10 points, or more than double the average loss in studies of pot users.

It gives a whole new meaning to smoke breaks. In the information technology age workers might have to smoke a little weed every once in a while to get their brain cells back. That is not the exact conclusion the study draws, but the implications are widespread. Other findings mentioned in the article include that a third of respondents felt that answering text messages and emails during face to face meetings with other people had become acceptable and is seen as a sign of diligence. And the finding that two-thirds of respondents look at their work email while they are off or on vacation.



Research Project at King's College, London Unov.

I would like to know more about this study. For instance, I would like to know what the researchers think may have contributed to the IQ loss in the subject? I suspect, and would like to confirm, that the study found a correlation but may not have been able to identify a clear cause-effect relationship between the technology and the effect (IQ loss).
The reason for my interest is that frequently in other studies like these, the adoption of new technologies is associated with effects that later are revealed to be the consequence of non-technology behaviors or attitudes.
For example, in this case, I suspect that the technologies are contributing to a fragmentation of human intellectual behavior, and that it is the fragmentation, not the technologies that we should closely examine. To illustrate my point, consider the following "old" technology case study.
If I were to give a group of five readings (i.e, an assortment of essays, memoranda, email messages) to a group of 30 students, split the students into three groups of ten, and gave each of the groups differing directions on how to read the texts, I would probably discover differing effects in their acquisition of new knowledge. If group one had to read the texts concurrently -- read a paragraph of each text before moving to the next paragraph--a scenario much like the fragmented "reading" that email, phone mail and other modern communication technologies create; if group two had to read the texts consecutively but only scan the first and last paragraph--the kind of scenario that we see "forced" on modern executives and managers to keep up with the flood of information; and if group three had to read each consecutively and take notes and write a response to each before reading the next--a scenario that harkens back to a time when we valued reflective, critical reading skills; if those were the conditions and I were to test the the students later on the content and concepts presented in the readings, I suspect that the third group would perform the best. What I am trying to show here is that the main issue in the research may not be the technology but rather what the technology has done to the way we read, think, and interpret new information.
Thus, I am very interested in this kind of research report and hope that additional research will dig deeper into the underyling causes of the association of technologies with intelligence.
Thanks, Josh, for putting this kind of information in front of your readers.

I would agree

It seems very likely that your suggestion, that the study is really showing the results of fragmentation instead of strictly technology, is correct. Much the same debate has been had for years about the vast wasteland known as Mass Media (television in particular). It is possible to use television to convey a great deal of information very well and to increase a viewer's understanding of the world. It is also possible to chop your presentations up in to sub ten-minute chunks and contribute to the same intellectual fragmentation that is likely the cause of this effect.

That being said, I think the key element here, and implication for institutions including business and educational institutions is to look at this problem and consider how it impacts their mission. While email and text messaging are not the only culprits, it is a very good place to start.

Individually each of us can contribute by applying more structure to when and how we respond to email. By controlling this form of communication as we do others. Few are compelled to respond to a memo arriving in the mail in the first 10 minutes after it arrives. The ready access to email along side the other tools we use on the computer makes it tempting to fire off a couple of notes - thereby contributing to fragmentation instead of helping to prevent its effects.