Open Source

Study says computers more harmful to IQ than smoking marijuana

A study conducted in 2005 said that use of technology was more harmful to one's IQ than smoking marijuana. And that was before the smartphones revolution!

If you read everything you can get your hands on, like I do, you can accumulate some pretty useless information. One thing that I am continually drawn to are the outcomes of "scientific" studies. You know, like, "Study shows that most network administrators drive blue cars." I won't even go into the question I usually have in reading about these studies, which is, "Who cares?"

As you know, these studies can be spun toward any type of technology or point of view you want to highlight, like:

"Linux users on average weigh less than Windows users," sponsored by Red Hat and Jenny Craig. (I just made that up.)

But then you have the studies that come out of universities that establish patterns or correlate results on topics that make you wonder who thought of them, much less how they got grant money to conduct the survey.

But it's rare when you find a study sponsored by a group that draws a negative correlation to users of its products. For example:

Since my thirst for information is only matched by joy in the absurd, it was with particular glee that I came across the description of a study done in 2005 by scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London; a study that was conducted for Hewlett-Packard.

The upshot? Excessive day-to-day use of technology -- whether it's sending e-mails or using mobile phones -- can be more distracting and harmful to the IQ than smoking marijuana.

I have so many questions:

  1. If this was true back in 2005 before everyone went hog wild over their smartphones, what possible shape could we be in now? Are we now just a better-dressed version of the walking dead?
  2. Did HP think this result was an endorsement of their product? Who thought it was a good idea to pit the use of a computer against an illicit substance if there was a chance the computer could lose? (Or win, depending on your point of view.)
  3. What must the control group on this study have been like?

So what do you guys think? Do you think your use of technology has impaired your IQ?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

74 comments
gorman.mi
gorman.mi

At the risk of sounding 'Relativist' it very much has to depend on the style of usage; T.V/PC's/Mobile phones are conduits of communications and information-someone who watches documentaries and other informative programmes, researches on the internet, and just calls friends and family on their phone has to be ahead of obssessive game players and texters who have very narrow-cast usage of technology-It is not Technology that drains "IQ" (a probelmatic concept to begin with), it is the nature of the "USER".

jonnix
jonnix

I may not know what an IQ is but I would have guessed that smoking computer equipment would be much more harmful.

sura.jan
sura.jan

It can be right for majority - the better and more clever technique they use the more stupid they can be and they really are because the technique thinks instead of them! Their celebral capability is dying because of training absence :-)

benoddo
benoddo

Technology has helped me to assimilate information that is useful to me. Much more so than the rest of my familial relations and friends. They are constantly hounding me to fix their infected computers.

mendozat19
mendozat19

I actually think for those whom actually read informative content that their IQ's should be higher not lower. We just acquire more information and hold onto it. I had no idea of what a pixel was before the net and I'm a self taugh graphic artist and it tech. For me computers have enlightened my life and I am smarter because of it.

sboverie
sboverie

One study with strange results is an exception unless there are other studies done independantly to confirm the results. The public has gotten rather cynical regarding poorly designed studies that tend to be used selectively by anyone with an agenda.

Bravotwofive
Bravotwofive

I have read a lot of comments here that just dismiss this study. Yet the college graduate of today cannot pass an 8th grade exam from 1920. If the medium that we are using to do calculations that we ourselves cannot fathom is telling us that we are losing it perhaps we should pay attention. But honestly I never got the same benefits from a computer as I did Marijuanna

dkwline
dkwline

What happens if you are a Computer Geek that smokes marijuana as well? Not much hope for you, I suppose? Or maybe the next big Internet app awaits us? Who knows?

p4nto
p4nto

There's not a whole lot of detail in that article. At best, they should say infomania causes people to be easily distracted and lose concentration - and *might* be one factor in why people are scoring lower on IQ tests. But if IQ is making sense of problems and seeing logical patterns or connectedness, it's quite a leap to say using computers or texting lowers your IQ.

yobtaf
yobtaf

If this is the best you can come up with, it's time to go on Christmas break. Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year!

jeff.morgan
jeff.morgan

In order to counter the effect of the IQ Sucking computer do we sample from the Control Group stash?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I never never Inhaled or read the screen so I can not possible be adversely affected. But I did listen to Politician's and sort of believed them for a few years back in the late 50's so that is what destroyed my brain. Back then I didn't believe that they could lie so blatantly all of the time that their lips where moving. :_| Now where did I put that Spool Chocker? Col

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The GUI reinforces "discovery".. don't remember the thing.. only how to find it in the given limited environment. The CLI reinforces "rote" memory.. The system "help" is available as are command "--help" details but generally, your going to remember what you repeat frequently. Just like anywhere else in life; practice makes it stick. I wonder if the study recorded a difference between CLI/terminal use and GUI use.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Hey Toni, I was wondering if you could cite your source. I find this hard to believe and I think that the data must somehow be flawed. I find that the average geek is more intelligent than the average stoner. Perhaps this is not a consequence of their choices.

alsanme
alsanme

We should then start smoking computers and using the marijuana for performing complicated calculations...

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I find this hard to believe. Esp for those of use who've been using computers for nearly our entire lives! Shouldn't have have meant I wouldn't make the top 10% in my graduating class?

neilb
neilb

Unh? Wossat? What were we talking about? Of course computers are not having any impact on my IQ. I still have full grasp of my wossernames.

ICan2
ICan2

On the study conducted and who sponsored it.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Some people place great merit on a person's IQ. Contrary to many, I have found it to be all but irrelevant when it comes to day to day functionality and business ability but it holds more weight from a social perspective due to peer acceptance.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Becoming a Borg is not necessarily a Improvement to your IQ just a closer move to the Technology that has adversely affected it so it looks better to the Technology. ;) Have you ever wondered why you now get 30 phone calls a minute from the same person telling you to do what they need [b]Now[/b] and how they are unable to think 3 nanoseconds ahead? Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I did find one from 1895 Kansas, and another from 1931 West Virginia. Could you have passed either of these? I know I wouldn't have passed either of these exams when I was in the eighth grade 40+ years ago, although I suspect I could have come closer than many. I don't think it's because my education was lacking, I think it's more that some of what was on the eighth grade exams in 1895 and 1931 has been replaced by other material more relevant to our day-to-day lives today. Growing up in the 50s & 60s, I had no need to know that a rod is equal to 16.5 feet or that the standard weight of a bushel of wheat was 60 pounds. But I grew up in a dairy farming community, so everybody knew the standard weight for a square bale of alfalfa hay was 70 pounds. And, since those who didn't grow their own often bought fresh fruit and vegetables in bulk and canned them, most also knew there are eight quarts in a peck and four pecks in a bushel.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You must first buy into the hogwash of IQ, in order to say anything at all about the whole thing.

sissy sue
sissy sue

Another useless and stupid study by people who don't care how they spend other people's money. My IQ dropped 20 points just by reading this article.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I'm posting this message by rubbing a piece of M'bana bark on an effigy... Voodoo R0X0R2!!!

ICan2
ICan2

Eat the crackers.

pgit
pgit

I think you hit on the fundamental question here... is the effect related to the GUI? I assume the study only considered computers sporting a GUI... and the one thing all GUIs have in common? The MOUSE! After all they are pan-dimensional beings, running experiments on us while leading us to believe we are superior and in charge of the experiment... Insidious. Can the mind of man ever be the same again? ;)

peter
peter

Windows, MAC, Linux ..... I've seen lot's of comment comparing these technically (sic) but has anybody looked at the relative effects on our intellect?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

they spoke of distractions... So, yeah, on one hand, a dopehead sitting in pristine all-beige room (norwegian wood), with no gadgets to distract. On the other hand, a person frantically multitouching away on his tablet while simultaneously trying to order his laptop around using voice recognition, and peeking at his crackberry too... Who's less distracted?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Then if you feel like stopping, turn your PC on..... If you feel yourself to be getting dumber, go back to the weed...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Bingo. Correlation does not imply causation. It could be the other way around: those with higher IQ choose pot because they have to escape the ceaseless hum of their own brains, while those with lower IQ need the help of their devices. Or it could be merely a coincidence, or a sampling error, or a misapplication of the results.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that the average geek is the average stoner. :|

jarzola
jarzola

What a stupid and absurd survey. The very meaning of making life easy it is not detrimental to our IQ it leaves room for more development of much more complex task, like lifting the toilet seat when you use it XD. What is hurting our IQ is not the use of the computer it is the content in which we engage in on a daily basis. I start my coding development routine and end up listening to music and watching youtube videos for about 30 minutes before I start. So the computer? No, the content? YES Absolutely!! Tools to make life easy are good and it does not hurt you in one bit I think, but if you continue to pay much more attention to what your friend is saying on Facebook then what NY Times has to say about global warming then we have a problem.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

You still know enough that you need to wipe the Drool from your Chin. I have just grown a beard so I don't need to remember important things like that. Not to mention that I wear weird Patterns to hide the drool stains. ;) Now where did I put my Car Keys. Seems like I've been looking for them for about 50 years now. :0 Col :^0

pgit
pgit

Have you ever wondered why you now get 30 phone calls a minute from the same person telling you to do what they need Now and how they are unable to think 3 nanoseconds ahead? It appears to me the concept of the interrupt (as in CPU preemption) has been assimilated into the minds of these people. When the thought shuts off (answering another IRQ such as "take sip of coffee") they hang up. Then 1/2 second later the thought takes up again and it appears totally natural to them to ring you back up. There are degrees of this behavior. I know a few people that as soon as they have called I clear out all other tasks for a few minutes because I KNOW the next 5-6 calls at minimum will be from this same person. And yes, I can anticipate what they will say, ask and need from me, but no matter how I put it across to them on the second or third call, it just doesn't process until they are good and ready. The pertinent page-in call just hasn't raised the interrupt yet I guess.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

slipped, fell and accidentally got their wyrds on him...

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Well, if you'd stop squirming and let us fasten this thing around your head.. we could open it up and have a look..

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

.. but.. normally based on personal preferences or the argument of the day.. hm.. not sure if it's been approached scientifically.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Even when I was young and doing LSD etc. I was much sharper than I am now when it came to math, penmanship etc. I've always been able to spell so I don't know if there's been a change there but I don't use spell checker, as everyone here knows all too well. I cetainly saw no loss of brain activity from my sordid past, but I practice basic skills such as memory systems (not just Oulook reminders etc). Today's youth seems to have issues telling time or remembering what days they don't have to go to school unless they have Outlook or an iPhone to reach for. It's like my nephew, he can't use a knife AND fork at the same time, he was never pushed to and now looks like an idiot when we go out to eat. Without practicing basic motor and memory skills, you simply lose them.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Garbage in Garbage out are you? Col :D

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I know it might take longer if you've been computing for a long time. think back to the creation of digital watches, there are so many kids today that can't tell time on a standard clock face. They don't even know that the short hand is hours and the long hand is minutes. IF they can figure it out, its usually not instant recognition when they see the hands, it's a much slower thought process to figure out time by viewing each hand independently. Now look at spelling today, I can't believe how many adults can't even spell the simplest words as they rely on spell check so often they forgot to spell. (Note:any spelling errors here will merely be a result of my crappy typing skills, I have an above average spelling ability) Then look at simple skills such as cursive handwriting. I FORCE myself to write and print calligraphy once in a while just to work my motor skills and control of a pen. It's amazing how rusty you get when you don't keep it up. On the other side, I used to smoke a heap of dope (I'm in BC too, GOOD dope), I've toured and managed bands and was quick to join in on festivities, with little care except to stay away from heroin. I never had issue with such basic functions as we see today with computer reliance, there is no doubt that computers feed us lots of info and we learn in different ways, but such basic motor skills are completely lost these days. As civilization has evolved over centuries there are lots of things we once could manage that we no longer can. Just as kids that spend too much time on they computer these days can't play sports like we used to, they don't learn and practice basic skills and focus on a completely different skill set of information gathering, texting etc. Many kids (and adults) don't develop ANY social skills anymore. They rely on on line social networking and texting and have no idea how to actually function in live social settings, making the newer generation a socially inept, awkward society. To suggest that you don't see these obvious changes in society simply proves the point of the original survey.

ICan2
ICan2

There's an App for that too :)

BobManGM
BobManGM

IQ tests use 'norms' for the testing. For example, it is normal to spell a word but not normal to use text lingo. So, maybe the people are not loosing intelligence, but it is the test is not suited for them. The same can be seen with inner city kids that take a standard IQ test. They may score low on the test, but through observation people can see they are not unintelligent. You wouldn't give an IQ test tailored for American children to British children. Also, I saw a study a while back that said spanking your child lowers their IQ (I'm not familiar with the whole study, but when I read the excerpt it seemed that no tests were done early in the child?s life, until maybe 5). Well, what if the people that resort to spanking have lower IQs to start and thus pass that on to their children? In a lot of studies, more than just the study results need to be examined. (12 years in K-12 ed showing) Bob

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but the TR site STILL hasn't implemented a brainwave interface, and I'm too lazy to type.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

I'm not so sure it's *IQ* points that a really dropping. Just our ability, nay, our willingness to think for ourselves is leaving this society. I remember reading a story in jr high about the future... all kids were home-schooled. And the 2 the story focused on had found books.. real books. It was hard to read and they were funny b/c the words didn't move across the screen for them. They stood still, and...oh no, pages!! TO TURN?!? I hope we don't get that far. :(

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

OH after lots of Goggling I found out that they live in the Kitchen. So it's not possible that my keys are there because I'm not allowed in the Kitchen. :p Col :^0

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