Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Minda, John Paul


Objectives: Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous and as a result, researchers have sought to study whether there are negative consequences that result from this inescapable device. Extended exposure to seemingly endless resources, entertainment, and communications has brought forward the issue of smartphone reliance and the effect of smartphone presence on cognition. This dissertation investigated the effect of smartphone presence on cognition and predictors of smartphone reliance using six studies. Chapter 2 (one study): A replication of Ward et al.'s (2017) second study was completed. Participants completed a difficult working memory task and a response inhibition task while leaving their smartphone either on their desk, in their pocket or bag, or outside of the testing room (powered on or off in each location). Smartphone use tendencies and a measure of smartphone attachment and dependency were collected. Results did not replicate the original study's main findings: there was no effect of smartphone location on working memory. Chapter 3 (three studies): A battery of 12 cognitive tests were used to investigate which aspect of cognition, if any, was affected by smartphone location. Measures of smartphone reliance (nomophobia-the modern fear of being without your phone or the internet, smartphone attachment and dependency, and mobile phone involvement) and smartphone tendencies were also measured. Results from the in-lab study revealed an effect of smartphone location on verbal ability (specifically, verbal short-term memory) but these results were not replicated in a subsequent online-based study. Chapter 4 (two studies): The final studies explored personality traits and well-being measures as predictors for smartphone reliance (nomophobia, and smartphone attachment and dependency). Results revealed that higher emotional intelligence and neuroticism were the best and most consistent predictors of smartphone reliance. Conclusions: These studies imply that smartphone presence may impact a small aspect of cognition, but not in a reliable manner. Smartphone reliance measures (and their predictors) should be incorporated into future studies to assess if some people are more likely to experience negative effects from smartphone presence or use.

Summary for Lay Audience

Smartphones have become increasingly popular resulting in researchers wanting to understand their impact on our ability to complete tasks while in the presence of your own smartphone. This dissertation explores how being in the presence of our smartphone changes our performance on a task and how our personality can predict how much we rely on our own smartphone. Three projects were used to explore this. The first project tried to recreate findings from a previous study which found that people with their smartphone near them scored lower on a difficult memory task. During a memory and attention task, our participants placed their smartphone in one of three locations: (i) on their desk, (ii) in their pocket or bag, or (iii) outside of the testing room, and turned their smartphone either on or off. We also asked participants about their typical smartphone use to understand how much they rely on their smartphone using two surveys. We found that the results from our study did not compare to those found in the original study. The second project had participants complete 12 tasks which tested a variety of cognitive measures such as memory, attention, and reasoning. During the tasks, participants placed their smartphone either on their desk, in their pocket or bag, or outside of the testing room for an in-person or online study. We found that people who placed their smartphone on their desk had lower scores in the in-person study, however, it had no affect during the online study. The final project looked at the relationship between people who rely on their smartphone and different personality and mental health measures. We found that people with a higher ability to recognize their own emotions and emotional needs, along with those who are more tense or distressed about life relied more heavily on their smartphones. These studies imply that there may be a small impact of smartphone presence, however, not consistently. More research is needed to determine the type of person who is more likely to rely on their smartphone and how this can impact them while in the presence of their smartphone.