Infomania’ worse than marijuana

BBC News 22 April 2005

Workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers, new research has claimed.

The study for computing firm Hewlett Packard warned of a rise in “infomania”, with people becoming addicted to email and text messages.

Researchers found 62% of people checked work messages at home or on holiday.

The firm said new technology can help productivity, but users must learn to switch computers and phones off.

Losing sleep

The study, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence.

Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana, said researchers.

More than half of the 1,100 respondents said they always responded to an email “immediately” or as soon as possible, with 21% admitting they would interrupt a meeting to do so.

The University of London psychologist who carried out the study, Dr Glenn Wilson, told the Daily Mail that unchecked infomania could reduce workers’ mental sharpness.

Those who are constantly breaking away from tasks to react to email or text messages suffer similar effects on the mind as losing a night’s sleep, he said.

Infomania Experiment for HP


In 2005 I was commissioned by Porter-Novelli, the London publicists of Hewlett-Packard, to supervise a small in-house experiment on the negative effects of “always-on” technology, dubbed “infomania”. This was to accompany a large-scale survey of around 1000 people conducted by polling company TNS, revealing the extent of misuse of technology among UK workers. For example, 62% would check email and text messages out of hours and when on holiday, and 20% would interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to an email or telephone message. The findings of the experimental part of the study, for which I was responsible, were as follows:



Eight Porter Novelli employees (4 male and 4 female) were tested twice – once in quiet conditions and once in distracting conditions (mobile phones ringing and e-mails arriving). Parallel forms of a matrices-type IQ test were used. The design was balanced with respect to sex, order of test conditions, and order of IQ test forms.

Measures of skin conductance, heart rate and blood pressure were taken under both conditions as well as self-reported stress ratings.

Effect of distraction on IQ

Results showed clearly that technological distraction diminished IQ test performance (mean scores dropped from 143.38 achieved under quiet conditions to 132.75 under “noisy” conditions).

Sex difference

The impact of distraction was greater for males (145.50 down to 127) than for females (141.25 down to 138.50). Putting that another way, males were superior in quiet conditions, females were superior in the distraction condition. This is consistent with the idea that women are better than men at “multi-tasking”.

Self-reported stress

Noisy conditions caused a striking increase in self-reported stress. Ratings on a 0-10 scale of “stress experienced during the test” increased from 2.75 to 5.5 for males and 4.75 to 6.75 for females. Note that in addition to the main effect of conditions of testing, women reported higher stress levels than men overall.

Physiological stress indicators

Skin conductance (a reflection of sweat gland activity) increased slightly for both males (23.00; 25.75) and females (16.25; 18.25) under distraction conditions compared with quiet. Heart rate and blood pressure showed no consistent relationship with work conditions. Males were higher than females on all these markers, which contrasts with the self-report measure.

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