Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator
Smart Phones are making us dumb!
August 5, 2019
Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator


There is now a phenomenon called 'Phantom Vibration Syndrome'. It occurs when someone regularly has their phone set to vibrate. They feel phantom vibrations on their leg - even when their phone is not present. Up to 90% of US University students experience these phantom vibrations.

How long do they last?

To learn more, a US researcher took a group of students out camping. There was no network service but, to be really sure, he took their smart phones away from them. After 4 days of no smart phone use many students still experienced phantom buzzes. They were so addicted to their phones that their brains created an illusion that a non-existent phone was buzzing.


We don’t know why this phenomenon occurs. It appears to be more than a habit created by regularly turning your phone to 'vibrate'. We do know it's more prevalent in people who feel reliant on their phone. Attachment anxiety has been shown to predict the frequency of 'phantom vibration' experiences. Attachment anxiety is associated with insecurity in interpersonal relationships. This naturally leads us to social media use which is prevalent in individuals with attachment anxiety.

Social Media

Voice calls are just one feature of the computer-in-our-pocket Smartphones fo course. Much more time is spent on Social media - particularly amongst teenagers. Sadly, increased time spent on social media is a good indication of potential mental health issues. Ironically, the more online 'friends' a teenager has, the fewer they have in real life.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

FOMO has become an issue amongst teenagers of today. The convergence of smartphones, 24/7 connection and the explosion of social media, has resulted in an unhealthy trifecta. Teenagers now compulsively check for updates as they are bombarded with images of virtual friends having fun. Of course, these images are carefully orchestrated and often do not show reality. Unfortunately, it is driving FOMO that is driving a need to always be connected. As a result, we have a generation addicted to their smartphones.

Decrease in Drugs/Increase in Depression

An interesting bi-product of this current addiction is that drug-taking amongst teens is at its lowest since the 70s. It’s suggested that this is due to good drug education and also because many teenagers now prefer to be on social media than out in the real world. The sad consequence is depression is at an all-time high. Since smartphones and social media appeared, depression in teenagers has increased dramatically. There is a direct correlation between the hours spent on social media and likelihood of suicide.

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All the best!
Dr Mark Williams
Neuroscience Professor, Author, Speaker & Facilitator

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  1. Bindi Adams says:

    Thank you Dr Williams,
    very insightful, and very relevant to today’s classrooms! As a teacher, I have an uphill battle to have kids focus their attention on the important task of absorbing real information, and am constantly being interrupted by ‘social media updates’ , with the occasional student actually acknowledging that they are in fact addicted to their phones (although this doesn’t seem to deter them from continuously checking their phones).

    • Mark says:

      Hi Bindi,

      Teachers have the most important job and I think a lot of the technology just makes that harder. We need to start re-evaluating how and when it is used. I am keen to present the facts and some ways of adapting at schools (see: https://www.drmarkwilliams.com/speaking/).

      Keep up the good work!

  2. Peter Scammell says:

    The use and management of smart phones at school has a flow-on effect in the workplace.
    I recently sat down for a haircut at a ladies hairdresser. A very simple process , with respect Mark, i’m sure will know what i mean by that. I was her first customer on that day and she had a first day apprentice.
    No doubt relishing the fact that my simple requirement was a great opportunity to teach the basics of fitting a NO.4 blade and turning the thing on, when her new employee’s phone rang in her pocket. Without so much as an apology or even excuse me, she simply answered the phone and wandered outside to carry on the conversation for some minutes, returning when the job was virtually completed.
    My point is that the neurological downsides of smart phones is only part of the story. The employee (a short lived one ) displayed a complete lack of understanding and responsibility as to what was happening.
    As more and more of my clients are reaching middle management rolls, I am finding it increasingly difficult to conduct business with these short attention spans, some of whom just keep pulling the phone out on the off chance that they may have received a notification.
    I envisage the day when even face to face conversation will be conducted via the smart phone.
    As always, what happens at school has far reaching ramifications.

    • Mark says:

      Completely agree Peter. It astounds me how often a face-to-face conversation is interrupted by the other person responding to a beep or buzz from their phone. We need to treat the person who is present with more respect. As an aside, I wish I had enough hair to get a No. 4 cut 😉

  3. Peter Scammell says:

    I made a comment here earlier today. It went into moderation and has now disappeared. Is there an explanation for this?