The attentional cost of receiving a cell phone notification

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2015 Aug;41(4):893-897. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000100. Epub 2015 Jun 29.


It is well documented that interacting with a mobile phone is associated with poorer performance on concurrently performed tasks because limited attentional resources must be shared between tasks. However, mobile phones generate auditory or tactile notifications to alert users of incoming calls and messages. Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task. The magnitude of observed distraction effects was comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cell Phone*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Text Messaging
  • Young Adult