There’s nothing like waking up Christmas morning to a new bright notification on your smartphone. With our phones continuously tugging at our attention, being fully present with friends and family during the holidays can prove challenging.
According to recent research by McCombs School of Business Assistant Professor Adrian Ward and co-authors, the urge to constantly check your phone is actually your brain’s way of solving a significant problem.
“We can’t pay attention to everything, and we often have trouble figuring out what we should pay attention to,” said Ward. “One way our brains have solved this is by prioritizing stuff that is rewarding and self-relevant. Our smartphones are unintentionally engineered to take advantage of both of these concerns.”
So even if your intention is to enjoy time with your loved ones, the potential dopamine-boosting rewards on your smartphone, such as social media likes or cute animal videos, are continuously in the background vying for your attention.
“Smartphones are basically always calling your name, and the closer the phone is to you, the more powerful that is,” said Ward. “If your phone is in sight right in front of you, it’s saying ‘Hey, pay attention to me!’ Even if you didn’t receive a text message or notification, the phone itself represents all the stuff you want to pay attention to. It’s putting you in a state of conflict.”
So how can we begin to resolve this conflict and be more present with our loved ones? We asked Ward to share some tips on how we can be smarter with our smartphones this holiday season.