Individual Differences in Memory Disruption Caused by Cellphone Notifications

Published: 02-03-2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/86ycd79h3r.1
Constance Schmidt,
Stephen Schmidt,
Kara Wilson


This dataset includes stimulus materials and data for a pilot study and two experiments exploring the effects of cellphone notifications on recall of categorized word lists. Participants studied word lists under three levels of distraction: no notifications, instructions to dismiss the notifications without reading them, and instructions to read the notifications before dismissing them. Words were presented simultaneously in the pilot research and Experiment 1, and successively in Experiment 2. Four measures of word recall were obtained, including total words recalled, number of categories recalled, words-per-category recalled, and ratio of repetitions. After studying and recalling the word lists, participants completed questionnaires assessing their video-gaming, musical, texting, and media-multitasking experiences. In the two experiments, participants also completed the Ward et al. (2017) cellphone attachment and dependence scales. In the second experiment, participants completed a forward-digit span task as a measure of their working memory capacity. Based responses to the questionnaire and digit span performance, individual difference groups were identified, including: (1) heavy and light media multitaskers (pilot research only), (2) heavy and light texters, (3) video gamers and non gamers, (3) musicians and non-musicians, (4) high and low scorers on the Ward et al. cellphone scales, and (5) participants with high and low working memory capacity (Experiment 2 only). For all subgroups, word retention decreased as the level of distraction from the notifications increased. Dismissing the notifications without reading them interfered with relational processing (category recall) only whereas reading the notifications disrupted both relational (category recall) and individual-item processing (words-per-category recalled). The disruptive effects of notifications were strongest when words were presented successively in the second experiment. Heavy texters demonstrated particularly poor performance on the word recall task, whereas participants with high working memory capacities performed relatively well. Video gamers and participants with high scores on the Ward cellphone attachment scale were disrupted as much by simply dismissing the notifications as by reading them. The results of this research suggest that no-one is immune to the dual costs of monitoring incoming notifications while performing academic and professional tasks.