• Texting makes you less intelligent, it is revealed
• Brains suffer from information overload, apparently
• Solution is: switch off!
"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." - Dr Glenn Wilson, psychologist at the University of London
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CONSTANT text messaging and e-mailing causes a reduction in mental capability equivalent to the loss of ten IQ points, according to research.
Tapping away on a mobile phone or computer keypad or checking messages on a handheld gadget temporarily reduces the performance of the brain, according to the study into the effects of "infomania".
The psychologist behind the research has concluded that obsessive use of phones and e-mail devices could impair mental capability even more than smoking cannabis - and suggested the modern culture of information could cause a permanent drop in intelligence.
"It is obvious that full concentration is impossible when we have one eye on e-mails or text messages," said Dr Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at the University of London who conducted the study of 1,000 adults. "But we found that mental performance, the capability of the brain, was also reduced. Workers cannot think as well when they are worrying about e-mail or voicemails. It effectively reduces their IQ.
"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."
The surfeit of information is believed to cost firms millions of pounds a year in lost productivity. Millionaire telecoms mogul John Caudwell banned his staff from e-mailing last year, dubbing the practice the "cancer of modern business".
The owner of the Phones 4U chain told more than 2,500 employees to ditch cyberspace for face-to-face or phone communication - and claimed the ban had an "instant, dramatic and positive effect".
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is believed to receive up to four million e-mails a day, almost all of them spam, and has a dedicated department looking after the contents of his inbox.
Dr Wilson said the brain finds it hard to cope with juggling lots of tasks at once, reducing its effectiveness.
"It is similar to the effect on the mind of losing a night’s sleep, for instance, and more than twice the effect of the four-point drop in IQ caused by smoking cannabis."
The research, commissioned by technology firm Hewlett Packard, found men were most at risk from "infomania".
More than six in ten (62 per cent) of workers of both sexes admitted they were addicted to checking their e-mail and text messages so much they looked at work-related ones even when at home. Half said they always responded to an e-mail "immediately" or as soon as possible and one in five would interrupt a meeting to do so.
Dr Wilson said: "The most effective way to deal with the problem is to switch these things off. We have to learn to control technology rather than letting it control us."
Professor Cary Cooper, a stress expert, said: "Our desire to be in touch 24/7 is causing us to become overloaded with information. We have too many e-mails, too many text messages, too many voicemails and too many phone calls.
"Forty years ago, Harold Wilson predicted we would only have to work a 20-hour week because of the benefits of new technology. But as we create the technology that handles information faster, we have simply increased the volume of information to fill the gap.
"Before long we will need to employ information officers, in place of the traditional secretaries, to handle all this data."