The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone: Effects on Academic Ability


  • Vanessa C. Boila
  • Tru E. Kwong
  • Jaimey E. Hintz



Prior research has suggested that cell phone use in the classroom and during learning-related tasks is detrimental to academic performance. Recently, the mere presence of a cell phone has been found to negatively affect relationships and to impair performance on learning and cognitive tasks. This study explored whether the presence (visibility without use) of a cell phone negatively impacts one’s performance on tests measuring preexisting academic ability. The study evaluated 45 participants; some were enrolled in an introductory psychology course, and others were members of the public. Three subtests from the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT-4) were completed: spelling, sentence comprehension, and mathematics. During testing, half of the participants had cell phones, and the other half did not. Statistical analyses revealed no significant difference between the cell phone-present and cell phone-absent group on the sentence comprehension (p=.52), spelling (p=.07), and mathematics subtest (p=.11). Unexpectedly, a non-significant trend was observed in the opposite direction; that is, the cell phone-present group outperformed the cell phone-absent group on all subtests. Therefore, the original hypothesis suggesting that the cell phone-present group would be significantly poorer at demonstrating preexisting skills on tests of academic ability in comparison to the cell phone-present group was not supported.