Email threat to intelligence

22 April 2005 Modern communication can have a massively adverse impact on users according to a study by King’s College, London University, to the extent that it can actually lower IQ.

The study, commissioned by IT powerhouse Hewlett-Packard found that extensive use of email and text messaging could cause IQ to drop by as much as 10%. To put that in context, regular cannabis use has been found to lower IQ on average by 4%.

The report highlights a condition termed ‘infomania’, where people become addicted to checking their email and text messages.

This can result in productivity decreases, as users feel compelled to respond immediately to emails. Consequently the brain can find multitasking difficult and the ability to differentiate between important and trivial messages becomes impaired. The damage to cognitive faculties is the equivalent to going the night without sleep.

“The impairment only lasts for as long as the distraction. But you have to ask whether our current obsession with constant communication is causing long-term damage to concentration and mental ability,” said Dr Glenn Wilson, psychologist at the University of London.

Within the study group, 62% admitted to checking work-related emails while at home or on holiday; half said they always responded immediately to an email; and 21% thought it was acceptable to interrupt a meeting to do so.

Although nine out of ten people thought it rude to answer messages or emails in face to face meetings, a third thought it showed diligence.

The volume of email shows no sign of abating: 50 billion are sent every day all over the world, compared to less than 12 billion in 2001. Similarly, text messaging has nearly doubled over the past four years.

The challenge, in an increasingly ‘always-on’ age, is for firms to increase productivity through the use of mobile technologies whilst ensuring their workers are disciplined enough to complete the task they are working on. When John Caudwell, the owner of Phones 4 U, banned email he claimed it had an instantly positive effect on his staff.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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