Cognitive Overload

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Cognitive Overload

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If you are a typical smartphone user, you will pull out your phone 80 times a day and interact with it; extrapolated out, that’s 30,000 times a year. And like most other people, you will keep your phone within your reach, an around-the-clock repository of your life’s experiences which then influence how you think, what you think, and how you behave 24-7.

A 2015 Gallop survey revealed that the majority of smartphone users said that they “could not imagine life without the device.”

Think about this in the context of what happens when it is combined with our other technology at work and home. Because when you do so, you will get closer to the functioning mind of your average patient: They are distracted. They are constantly being interrupted. They are perpetually being bombarded with issues and problems that they don’t have the time to immediately resolve. They are what psychologists call “cognitively overloaded.”

And when we are too cognitively busy, we do not have the time to explore potential creative solutions which may very well be in our best interest. Instead, we tend to stick with what we already know – or at least what we think we know.

Research in cognitive science has revealed that our dependence upon technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, in many ways it allows us to do things faster and with less effort. On the other hand, and in spite of our 24-7 exposure to an infinite amount information, it does not necessarily make us any smarter or wiser.

In fact, a recent study at the University of California, San Diego revealed that the more access to smartphones people had, the more their cognitive abilities DECREASED. Additionally, a recent article in the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research says, integration of smartphones into daily life causes a “brain drain” and can diminish such vital mental skills as learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem-solving, and creativity.

The reality is that smartphones have become so entangled in our lives that they are too often consuming too much of our attention and cognitive resources for too little of a pay-off.

There is even a phrase for this phenomenon, called the “Google effect” where a person thinks they know more than they do simply because they have access to information- yet can not personally recall the details…overconfidence, distorted conclusions…worse decisions…weak memory.

In dentistry, we see this all of the time. The challenge ahead is to find a way around this broad cultural trend and to connect much more meaningfully with our patients – to move our relationship from being transactional to transformational. And that takes time, and both of us stepping away from our technology addictions and communicating as only humans can do one-to-one, and allowing each other to “feel felt.”

Paul A Henny DDS


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