back to article iPhone users are sad and mentally unfocused

A shock study of iPhone users has found that they spend 46.9 per cent of their time thinking about something other than what they're doing - and this febrile absentmindedness makes them deeply unhappy. "A wandering mind is an unhappy mind," say Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard uni. "The ability to think …


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  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Sounds like a good interview question

    > they spend 46.9 per cent of their time thinking about something other than what they're doing

    Thank you for coming in, before the interview starts properly, one little question: have you got an iPhone?

    "Why yes I have" says the interviewee, proudly. "Would you like to see it?"

    No thanks comes the curt reply <ding> "Next please".

    (of course we don't know what percentage their time of non iPhone owners spend dreaming and gazing into space - it could be even more than this, especially if they were wishing they had an iPhone, too.)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      And on the flip side...

      I turned down a job at a small division of a larger company earlier this year. The fact that the staff were mostly fanbois and took unnerving delight in brandishing their iPhones, iPods and especially iPads was not the only factor in my decision, but neither was it an insignificant one.

      The staff rather fitted the fanboi stereotype and the common accusation of "style-over-substance" made about Apple products seemed to fit these people more than their devices. I didn't feel comfortable about them or their office.

      The company recently decided to fold that division and everyone who wouldn't move to the parent company was laid off. Turns out the products they built weren't up to much, and they'd wasted what money they had earned. Another notch in the bedpost of my ability to judge character.

      It's not that Apple products caused this; just that they attract people of a certain mindset. Mind you, I haven't got much of an attention span either. Oh, the irony.

      1. Eponymous Howard

        Sorry AC

        I fell into an ennui-induced coma at your first use of the word "fanboi" (although I use the term "Word" loosely"). Come back when you have had an originality implant.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ Eponymous Howard

          Ennui-induced coma? You mean you "died of boredom"? Really, with "travails" and "tranche" and abuse of the word "genre", what is it with all this pseudo-French (it means "listlessness" and "boredom" in English, but the origin of the word is "vexed" and "angry" in French)? Do you think it somehow makes you seem smarter?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Nice One!

      iAnything users are sad and mentally unfocused

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Don't you mean "slab fondlers"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      or "fondle-slab" users.

      1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: fondle-slab

        Apple isn't the only one making fondle slabs. Or are we saying it's the only one actually selling any?

        Actually, judging by the Galaxy Tab on the desk here, I suspect it soon will be. Not impressed, I have to say.

  3. Andy Jones

    So what the study found is ....

    "A shock study of iPhone users has found that they spend 46.9 per cent of their time thinking about something other than what they're doing ..."

    So basically iPhone users have boring jobs and think of doing other things or being somewhere else. Enuff said really!

    And this is coming from an Android user! FFS, these studies are pathetic!

  4. Nic 3

    Title is a title

    Quality Trolling for a friday afternoon Reg.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    making love

    they weren't focused on the job if they were answering the survey at the same time... unless they were making love to their iphone?

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Or conversely,

      I would start worrying about my methodology, getting answers like "I'm making love! LOLZ!" or "Splitting atoms! Someone must clean up leftovers! =(!" etc. Some legpulling may have occured.

    2. Daniel 1


      I think if someone phoned me up, to ask me my mood, while I was in the middle of making love, 'Doleful' would not be a very likely response.

      1. Clarissa


        Given that I can't imagine that your partner would be particularly happy if you answered the phone in the middle of lovemaking, I think you would be doleful once you realised how long it would be until you next got the chance.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          "...your partner would be particularly happy..."

          What partner ??!!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The one occasion where that happened...

 girlfriend picked up the phone to tell whoever it was to sod off, only to be told about a car accident in Paris.

          Yes, *that* car accident in Paris.

          Which is why we always looked sheepish when anyone trolled out the old "Do you remember where you were when you heard..."

          1. Solomon Grundy

            Car Accident?

            I had a car accident in Paris several years ago, but I'm not sure I would have called your girlfriend about it. But who knows, maybe it was your girlfriend.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Thumb Up


              Our fender bender and they had the courtesy to ring you - French hospitality.....

    3. Thorsten

      Just goes to show..

      Just goes to show what a really sad bunch these fanbois are! Unable to keep focused on the job when their iPhone demands attention...

  6. Whitter
    Thumb Down

    Down with this kind of thing.

    Don't encourage them: don't report it.

    That is all.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Complete tosh

      This study is one of the most ludicrous examples of pseudo-science I've seen in a while. It seems American unis are going the same way as the rest of the country...

  7. The Other Steve

    These traditions suggest ?

    Really ? That's the evidence for it making you sad ? Seriously ?

  8. jonathanb Silver badge

    Not a good study

    What percentage of non judas phone users are sad and mentally unfocused? It could actually be higher.

    1. Ian Yates

      Letter and/or numbers

      That was my thought, too.

      The use of the word "iPhone" in this study is irrelevant, since they haven't declared the numbers for the same study of non-iPhone owners.

      I'm assuming this is iPhone-centric because they only developed the app for iPhones? In which case, iPhone ownership was just a factor in choosing the study sample.

      Usual quasi-scientific "research".

      (not an iPhone owner)

    2. Annihilator Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Worse study than you think

      It says that iPhone users spend 46.9% of their time thinking about something other than what they're doing. The only reason iPhone users come into it, is because the researcher used an iPhone app to conduct the research - nothing more. To be honest though, I'm amazed it's not higher.

      "A wandering mind is an unhappy mind," say trick-cyclists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard uni. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

      Utter utter bollox. Your brain is constantly trying to adapt patterns to reduce to unconscious cognitive functions, like walking or driving a car. If we always had to consciously think about the task in hand, we'd never get anything done - for example, I'd never be able to type this quickly if I were thinking about typing.

      At what point are you "doing" something? I'm breathing, but not thinking about it. Regulating body temperature. Typing. Reading. Listening/processing my environment.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so wait

    a program designed to interrupt people at random found that they were not thinking about whatever it is they were doing before they were interrupted?

    colour me shocked.

  10. Sven
    Paris Hilton

    Sponsored by

    Dr Kawashima's Brain Training!

    Paris: her mind was used as control subject

  11. Is it me?

    Not really an unbiased study

    I suspect users of Crackberry's could be tarred with the same brush, of even people who are using their PC's to read the register.

    To be meaningful you would actually have to do a multi-channel, mutli-device survey.

    Where's the waste paper basket icon when you need it.

  12. D. M


    Even I don't like iCrap, this "study" is worthless. So what they were thinking then, did they ask? It is perfectly fine to multi-task.

    And did iPhone users make love to their phone or think about someone/something else when they make love, or they think about making love all the time?

    Regardless which one is true, it only says iPhone users cannot get real sex or attractive partner.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    So let me get this right...

    "The only activity which caused doleful absentmindedness to drop below 30 per cent among slab-fondlers was "making love"."

    Hold on love, My iPhone is asking me a question, keep yourself busy for a minute...

    But then maybe it doesn't take a great deal to keep Lady Palm in the mood?

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: So let me get this right...

      "Lady Palm"

      is that a reference to Pré cum?


      1. John G Imrie

        Lady Palm

        That will be Mrs Palm and her 5 daughters, or Rosie, to her friends.

        Which explains why Mrs Palm runs the Guild of Seamstresses in Ankh-Morpork

  14. Ozwadi Ogolugi


    Sorry what were you saying?. I was thinking about something else...


    Sent from iPhone

  15. chr0m4t1c


    Where's the evidence that this is limited to fondle-phone users?

    And where's the cure for cancer? I mean, they must have finished that or they wouldn't be wasting their time on this, surely?


    Sorry, I wandered off for a minute.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    People say I'm easily distracted but I just tell them to F...... oooooh that phone is shiny !

  17. Warlord

    Reg reporting

    I weep for the quality of articles on The Reg lately.

  18. Mystic Megabyte


    trying uh! to uuuh! txt" uuuuuuuuh! reeeeeeeeeeepppppppppppllllllllyyyyyyyyyyy aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

  19. Pandy06269

    Excellent piece of research

    Of course people will answer a random survey if their mind is wandering and they've got nothing better to do.

    If they're really busy and focused on getting something done, most likely they'll hit the "ignore survey" button.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thinking about all that sex they are having, according to that other survey....

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    What % of those are women?

    Women multitask so you'd expect all female owners to be thinking of more than just the task in hand. There's nothing new here.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: What % of those are women?

      All women? I'm terrible at multi-tasking. But I am very nurturing and also er, what else is it that all women are? Don't answer that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        what else is it that all women are

        Lovely. You're all lovely. Lovely, lovely ladies.


      2. Anonymous Coward

        @ Sarah Bee

        "All women? I'm terrible at multi-tasking. But I am very nurturing and also er, what else is it that all women are?"

        Horders. Horders of extraneous cushions, that's what. The sofa came with no extra cushioning, therefore it doesn't NEED any more cushioning. So why all the additional cushions??? Why? Why? They just get in the way!!! ;p

    2. Elmer Phud

      Erm, no

      Turns out that women don't multi-task after all, no-one does.

      We all use the same system of time slicing but a lot of it depends on how many tasks can be kept ticking over.

      I can manage to watch the telly, drink beer and scratch my arse all at the same time - is that multi-tasking?

      1. Anonymous Coward


        isn't necessarily a desirable skill, this always seems to be overlooked whenever anyone touts this particular hogwash.

        At work there are people who can work, write emails, browse the net, talk on the phone, chat with their friends, etc. All at the same time... I just work! Guess who has more work done at the end of the day!

  22. Captain Save-a-ho

    This just in!

    In a shocking survey, researchers discovered that people in general aren't focused. Furthermore, they also noted that people aren't happy, except when they're wanking.

    This is every bit as pseudo-science as the nonsense being spewed about global warming or Bigfoot, only neither of those have an app (or do they?).

    1. Clarissa

      Rule 34 for apps...

      If there aren't currently any I'm sure that there will be soon.

  23. Tony Paulazzo


    Actually, judging by the Galaxy Tab on the desk here, I suspect it soon will be. Not impressed, I have to say.<

    Awaiting for aforementioned review, as well as the Pcworld Advent and the archos 101. I'm still waiting for the iPad beater - screen and build quality and battery life.

  24. Ted Treen

    Curiouser & curiouser...

    My nephew loves his iPhone. He's a Windows network administrator.

    I'm still perfectly happy with my Samsung Pixon M8800. I'm a graphic designer and a Mac techie - even a fanboy.

    Neither of us are sad or unfocused, mentally or otherwise.

    This is nothing more than a "quiet day page-filler".

  25. danny_0x98

    The Distracted Mind

    In defense of the wandering mind, a lot of my best solutions have come to mind while on a walk or in the shower. Doing something rote and physical when the mind may wander (which is perhaps happening all the time, but at a level below consciousness) is the ideal situation for the good idea to trickle up into recognition.

    I've also spent significant chunks of my life as a bureaucrat and an ersatz rock star. Yes, absolutely, when buried deep in reconciling someone's credit card expense report, those thoughts about playing guitar have been an indicator that at that moment I wanted to be doing something else.

    When the work's done, I go and do something else fun.

    As I think about it, there's been a time or two when I've been playing music and thought about something at the day job. I guess the point is that disengagement from the moment happens and it only means that all our concentration is not needed.

    Now the occasional moment of disengagement is a first step to being totally disengaged, which is known as alienation and unhappiness, as the occasional adult beverage is necessary to alcoholism. Well, yes, but there's a fairly large gap between those states that most people will not traverse.


    Oh Yeah.

    I use an iPhone.

    And I think.......

    I'm thinking about playing Angry Birds.

  26. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  27. Doug Glass

    Human Nature

    Everybody fondles their slab at one time or another. The trick is to enjoy what you're doing as opposed to thinking about what you're doing. That's multitasking and I thought that was what the computer age was all about ... getting more output with the same or less input. Then there's synergism which is getting more out than you put in. As an old fart I can tell you those realities morph with age. Pretty soon we all get to the point that any fondling is a pleasure and to hell with what other people think or do. And that's called retirement or sometimes true independence.

  28. Dexx

    I disagree....

    with the results of any study that suggests that I’m sad and mentally unfoc......


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Eh? The BBC write up of this story doesn't mention the word 'iPhone' anywhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL, yes it does

      "according to a US study conducted via the iPhone"

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re; What?

      > The BBC write up of this story doesn't mention the word 'iPhone' anywhere.

      So complain on the BBC forum.

      Or are you assuming their write up is better than at El Reg? That would be a first!

  30. Anonymous Coward


    "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind"

    Yes, let us take folklore knowledge and hold them as truth:

    "Ignorance is bliss"

    Therefore, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert must be REALLY happy!

    1. ian 22


      "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

      Yes, I dreamt that up. It's the product of my idling mind producing new traditions.

  31. MinionZero

    Utterly biased and fundamentally flawed research.

    @"A wandering mind is an unhappy mind" ... No it isn't. Their wandering mind is very evidently unhappy, but that says way more about them, (and their usually hidden troubling thoughts) than it does about a wandering mind.

    A wandering mind can be good or bad, it simply depends upon what that person is dwelling on. Therefore the people who are distracted by their troubling thoughts (and so decree “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind”) and so then go on to mandate that others have to live only in the moment, are giving out a massive warning sign of their real core behaviour. That they can't let their mind wander, because they fear and are painfully distracted by what it wanders into. That is why these people are effectively saying, *their* wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

    Personally I love having a wandering mind. I also enjoy being around people who have a fascinating imagination and I avoid the boring ones who don't have much imagination or worse still, some who refuse (for whatever real reason) to have much imagination and some even put others down for having an imagination. (Which just forces me to ask the question why the negative anti-imagination people are so insecure about others expressing their imagination and being free to explore their imagination. It leads inevitably to the question, what is so bad in the negative people's wandering mind? … which is a good warning sign of why they treat others badly).

    These so called “researchers” have let their own perception of the world fundamentally bias their interpretation of any results they think they have.

    Here's a fitting quote to end on: "Imagination is intelligence having fun." - Albert Einstein.

    1. Michael C


      A mind that wanders to internal thoughts, daydreams, or worries can be a problem, leads to depression, and sometimes stress. A mind that seeks and finds interactive distraction is looking for (and receiving) release. Sometimes this is the result of a mind that wandered to worry, and that triggered you pulling out an iPhone and checking in on something, which ends the worry, and it is not dwelled on all day long, making you both less stressed and possessing one less mental distraction.

      Periodic distractions that involve interaction, release, entertainment, communication, etc are healthy (maybe not to your productivity), but the same frequency of distraction into the subconscious is very much not healthy, unless we're talking about daydreaming of positive things. Wishing you were away is bad, getting away is good.

      iPhones let people get away more often, which frees up other negative mental distractions. That can be a positive not only for personal happiness and stress reduction, but so long as it is controlled, it can actually INCREASE productivity at work as well.

  32. Dick Pountain

    The Leary Response

    If I owned such a phone, however fondle-worthy, and it asked me at random intervals if I'm happy, I'd tell it to Shut The Fuck Up. Is this a defect in my psyche or the researchers' methodology...

  33. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    What a load of old cack!

    Here's mine...

    People who like Mars over Twix are short!

    People who like Indian curry over Chinese stir-fry, are usally bald!

    People who like rucksacks over "man-bags", are more prone to jumping at red-lights!

    People who prefer beer over cider are weird!

    People who drive BMW are more likely be complete cretins!

    Well they make more sense than the utter tosh in this survey! ( Well one of them is my personal opinion! )

    1. Arthur Jackson
      Thumb Down


      I guess you were referring to the wankers who steer BMW vehicles?

      Having a daughter who has worked in most motor vehicle franchises I am quite au fait with the demographic of various marques. What finally made her decide to go back into higher education was the invasion of her Audi "family ethos" by the BMW twats

  34. Michael C
    Jobs Horns

    wandering minds why?

    A mind wanders because something else is more interesting to it than the task at hand. It is a subconscious reaction, not a foreground choice. By wandering, the mind is finding some measure of happiness where none was. Given a pool of people with the same job, if those with an iPhone wander more often, who's to say the others would not have if they had a place for the mind to wander that was interesting.

    Either they're wandering more often because the job bores them more (psychological differences drawing lines in the user base, aka, saying an iPhone owner is somehow different on some level from a non-iPhone owner in the same situation), or much more likely, the device OFFERS places to wander TO (or get to more simply or readily) that other devices do not do equally, and thus wandering is more easily achieved.

    Now, if the study actually compared overall lifestyles of users vs non-users and found that iPhone owners suffered more common bouts of depression, or other disorders we might have some interesting information. However, them wandering more often does NOT logically equal that they are more depressed ad thus more frequently seek distraction unless you can quantitatively measure the ease of achieving distraction, and the benefits differences of what distraction might have been obtained when wandering.

    Either the study's results are wrong, or more likely the analyst coming up with this statement was wrong. I content the opposite hypothesis: iPhones are superior at providing distraction and can make sad or bored people HAPPIER by having one.

    Put me in an office with no windows and no distractions and I'll focus on my work more and wander less, but i'll also be far less productive and far more lethargic, and far less happy. I know for a fact I actually get more work done when my mind is allowed to spend 10-15 minutes of every hour doing something other than my assigned task at hand.

  35. Lord Lien


    ... thats such a cool story bro!

  36. JaitcH

    iPhans+wandering mind = sad; sad+Lemon 4 = happy?

    Could this research lead to the answer as to why millions of supposedly sane people go out and buy products that even Jobs admits are less than perfect, which to others are simply defective?

    Very thought provoking research.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    I wonder

    A bit confusing, but would a Iphone, perhaps, cure me from this awful habit of thinking of somebody else when having sex with somebody else.

  38. Anonymous Coward


    Anyone in a break in conversation in a pub or café or in a in interval in a theatre or cinema for instance who immediately starts playing with the I phone or android based phone or any smart phone

    for that matter is a total cock period , it's got nothing to do with apple , I know two people who had I phones who now have android phone s for instance and they are no different , they are both still wankers.

  39. Colorado Bill

    Statistical nonsense

    Did you not mean:

    "46.9% of iPhone users who were interested enough in measuring their (un)happiness to volunteer to download a dubious application and volunteer as guinea pigs"?

    Normal people who are iPhone users would not have been interested in participating. This sample population is not representative of iPhone users in general.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    So that explains it...

    I hate Apple, I hate Macs, I especially hate their fanbois, I'm fundamentally opposed to the closed nature of the iphone and the Jobs brand of tyranny, but I have to admit I do like my iPhone (my preferred telco didn't have any decent android handsets so what was I to do?!?!)

    Now I've read this articlemy eyes have been opened... if I could only learn to focus more I could get rid of my iphone and be soo much happier!!!

    Evil Jobs because I really honestly don't like the bloke

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wandering mind

    IIRC the guy who invented the Cray supercomputer stuff would occasionally hit a problem that was particularly problematic. He generally found a solution by going off and doing something mundane like digging a ditch or painting a barn. The answer would just come to him once he stopped looking for it.

  42. Anonymous Coward


    feh! this survey sounds more like a mix of pseudoscience and hack journalism sensationalism with a warmed over dose of metaphysics claptrap than anything I'd like to call research.

  43. Anonymous Coward


    where were we?

  44. whatsa

    LOL like they live in the here and now....

    "Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to 'be here now,'" Killingsworth and Gilbert contend. "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind." (and a deluded life is not a real life)

    what a load of cr*p.

    religion is an alternate universe

    Philosophers never live it.

    yikes.. what impulsive hedonistic self-serving @%#$%

    maybe its just the iphone, so simple its boring

  45. Ascylto
    Big Brother

    It's a Mystery

    If this is the standard of research ... I fear for the standards of Harvard.

  46. Richard Hodgson

    How about this?

    If we get people to fill in a piece of paper with a pen rating how happy they are, can we say that pen users are generally mentally unfocused and unhappy?

    I see no mention of a control group here, so what exactly are they comparing the results against?

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