Does your phone typically have a seat next to you at the dinner table? Or do you keep it face down but within arm’s reach, so you can pull up Shazam or IMDB without skipping a beat in the conversation? While many of us consider ourselves expert multitaskers in social environments, juggling conversations and our devices simultaneously, the science is in that multitasking is a myth, and furthermore, we’re not being as present as we think we are when our phones are handy. 

According to research from the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, our phones have a measurable impact on our ability to focus and meaningfully connect with those around us. The study, published in the Journal for the Association of Consumer Research, found that the mere presence of our phones nearby — even if they’re face-down, on silent, or in our bag or pocket — reduces our available cognitive capacity and functioning, even though we may feel like we’re fully focused and attentive. 

And the easier it is for you to notice your phone, whether you can see it in your field of vision or not, the worse off your cognitive resources will be for the task at hand. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resource,” says lead author Adrian Ward, Ph.D. Translation: “It’s a brain drain.”

So before you sit down for your next meal, keep your phone away from the table. Better yet, leave it in the next room so it’s as far out of sight and out of mind as possible. You’ll start to see how much you may have been missing from your mealtimes — and your loved ones will appreciate having your full presence at the table.

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  • Mallory Stratton

    Director of Content Operations at Thrive

    Mallory is Director of Content Operations at Thrive. Prior to Thrive, she was Associate Editor on “It’s All In Your Head” by Keith Blanchard (Wicked Cow Studios, 2017), an illustrated brain science book, and worked closely on its accompanying cross-platform partnerships with Time Inc. and WebMD. She spends her off-hours curating playlists, practicing restorative yoga, and steeping new teas.