Skip to main content

Professor Ayelet Gneezy’s Paper Recognized by the Financial Times As Best for Social Research Impact


A paper co-authored by Ayelet Gneezy, a Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Marketing at the Rady School of Management, has been recognized as having the highest social impact by the Financial Times. Gneezy’s paper, “Brain Drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity,” found that a smartphone can be a profound distraction when completing tasks that require memory and attention, even when the smartphone was powered off.

To measure the social impact of academic papers, the Financial Times asked business schools to submit papers by academics published in the past five years. The publication then used data science company Altmetric to quantify the online resonance the papers had with the outside universities, using references such as academic citations and social media posts.

“It is gratifying to receive recognition for our work,” Gneezy said. “The idea for this research was generated by our own experiences, acknowledging there are millions of other smartphone owners like us. We realized that the only way to ‘break free’ was to remove ourselves from our phone physically. Although our paper focuses on the mere effect of smartphones on cognitive capacity, it is plausible to expect similar, undesired effects in other domains.”   

The paper was co-authored by Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, and Maarten W. Bos and was originally published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research in April 2017. In the paper, the academics measured the performance of undergraduates on tests of memory and attention while their smartphone was placed either on the desk next to them, in a pocket or purse, or in another room. The people who had their phones on their desk performed the worst on the tests, indicating that even when our smartphone is off, it is still on our minds. The authors determined smartphones do have a cognitive cost or as they call it “brain drain.”

In addition to the recognition by the Financial Times, the paper has received numerous media and social media mentions and has been cited by other academic papers 227 times since its publication.