Are Smart Watches Making Us Smarter? The Science Behind It.

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It is anticipated that by 2022 the global sales of smartwatches will exceed 1 billion units leading to their prevalence. Packed with features like fitness tracking, notifications, apps, payments and more, smart watches aim to make daily life more convenient by putting technology right on our wrists. But are these increasingly high-tech accessories actually making us any smarter or more efficient? Let’s examine what the science and research reveals.

Do Smart Watches Increase Productivity?

One of the biggest claimed benefits of smart watches is that they can help boost productivity by streamlining tasks and keeping users better informed and organized. But does the data back this up?

Several studies have indicated some productivity benefits, especially among early adopters and tech enthusiasts. In a 2016 study by California State University, smart watch users reported feeling more productive and organized, but there was no hard data on actual productivity gains. An MIT study the same year did find that smart watch users were more responsive to notifications and completed certain tasks faster.

However, a 2018 study by Middlesex University London found that although smart watches can aid productivity in small bursts, they can also increase distraction and over-reliance. Extended use of over 30 minutes led to declining cognitive scores. More research is still needed, but it seems smart watches may provide a productivity boost in moderation.

Do Smart Watches Improve Memory and Recall?

By providing instant access to information, smart watches could hypothetically reduce the need to memorize facts long-term. However, studies indicate they may actually help improve memory in some ways.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo found that instant access to information on smart watches led to lower recall immediately after learning, but better long-term recall after a delay. The watch users were also able to recognize more information they’d previously looked up. The study indicates offloading facts to a device doesn’t hinder learning over time.

Additionally, smart watch reminders and notifications may help users remember tasks, events, and other responsibilities throughout their day. More research is emerging on the potential memory benefits.

How Do Smart Watches Affect Focus and Attention?

Some experts argue that the constant pings, notifications and distractions from smart watches can fractured attention spans. However, others claim smart watches can help users stay focused by screening out phone distractions.

A 2017 study by the University of Michigan found that smart watch users checked their phones 37% less often than non-watch users. However, the watch users also multitasked more often. Similarly, a Notre Dame study found smart watch glanceable info reduced phone use without increasing distractedness.

More research from Cornell University in 2018 revealed that workers who used smart watches experienced less stress from interruptions and were roughly 8% more productive on tasks.

Overall, smart watches may support focus by reducing phone use, but over-reliance can also increase multitasking and fractured attention. Setting boundaries and managing notifications appears key.

Can Smart Watches Make Us Healthier?

From step counting to heart rate monitoring, workout tracking to sleep tracking, smart watches are increasingly packed with health sensors and monitoring capabilities. Can they actually help improve health and fitness levels?

Numerous studies indicate the fitness tracking features positively influence behavior and health for many users. A two-year study from UCLA found that 30% of smart watch users increased their physical activity after 18 months. Stanford researchers also discovered that using an Apple Watch increased aerobic fitness among couch potatoes.

However, studies also show that up to 30% of users may abandon fitness tracking after just 6 months. The motivational effects seem strongest at the start, then taper off. Ongoing engagement and goal setting is still important for long-term behavior change.

Overall, smart watches appear capable of driving positive health changes, but users must stick with them to reap the benefits.

Do Smart Watches Make Us Mentally Sharper?

Some researchers speculate that relying on smart devices for memory, navigation, calculations, information and more can lead to declines in mental sharpness over time. Can smart watches accelerate this effect?

Currently there is limited research on the direct neurological and mental impacts of long-term smart watch use. More studies have focused on smartphones.

One study of more than 500 teens in Canada did find associations between high smart device use and hyperactivity/inattention symptoms. However, causation was not proven. Researchers at the University of Adelaide also concluded technology overuse can negatively impact memory, mental health, emotional processing and impulse control.

While no clear mental decline has been identified yet, experts still recommend “digital detoxes” and moderation with smart watches to maintain cognitive skills. More research is still emerging in this area.

Key Takeaways on Smart Watch “Smarterness”

While the research is still evolving, a few key takeaways emerge around how smart watches may or may not be making us smarter:

  • Potential productivity gains from smart watches exist, but seem dependent on individual use cases. Over-reliance can backfire. Moderation is key.
  • Memory, recall and learning can potentially improve in some ways with smart watch use, but more research is needed.
  • Reduced phone use and screenings of notifications may support focus, but smart watches can also increase multitasking behaviors.
  • Fitness tracking features appear capable of driving positive health changes, but continued user engagement with the data is crucial.
  • Direct impacts on mental acuity are still inconclusive, but moderation is still recommended by experts.

The verdict is out, but early signs point to targeted smart watch use providing cognitive assistance in some specific ways. But restraint is still advised to minimize any potential over-reliance and distraction. Like any technology, smart watches appear best utilized in moderation as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about how smart watches may impact intelligence and cognitive function:

Do smart watches make people smarter or more productive?

Evidence on improved intelligence is limited, but some studies show smart watches can aid productivity and organization in small ways. Much depends on individual use habits. Over-reliance can decrease productivity.

Can a smart watch improve your memory or ability to recall information?

Surprisingly, some research found smart watches can improve long-term recall, even if immediate recall is hindered. Frequent reminders and notifications also help users remember tasks and events.

Do smart watches decrease attention spans and focus?

Potentially, if users become over-reliant on constant notifications and input. But smart watches may also improve focus by reducing phone use and unnecessary distractions. Moderation is key.

How much can fitness tracking features improve health and fitness?

Studies show fitness tracking can motivate increased activity and improved fitness, especially when users actively engage with the data. But 1/3 of users may abandon trackers after 6 months.

Can dependence on smart watches lead to declines in mental sharpness?

No clear evidence yet, but some experts theorize cognitive decline could occur long-term analogous to computer/calculator reliance impacting math skills. Moderation is recommended.

Should children or students use smart watches?

Experts say smart watch use should be carefully limited for children under 12 years old. In moderation, they can provide learning benefits to students. But overuse poses focus and hyperactivity risks.

The science is still evolving in this area. But with thoughtful use, there are promising indications that smart watches can provide some cognitive assistance and added convenience. Moderation and, focus are key to maximize the benefits and minimize any potential over-reliance.

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