If you do this very common thing during a break, your brain is in trouble

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If you’re working on a mentally difficult assignment, don’t take a break by noodling around with your cell phone. It depletes your brain and doesn’t allow it to re-charge, which may result in poorer performance once you’re back to work, according to a new study by researchers at Rutgers University.

For the experiment, 422 college students were assigned to solve difficult word puzzles. Halfway through their assignment, some were given breaks where they were allowed to use their cellphone and told to do some online shopping. Others students took breaks by using a paper circular to do some analog shopping, or a computer to shop online. The rest didn’t take a break at all.

The students who took their breaks on their phones experienced the highest levels of mental diminishment and were among the least able of solving the word puzzles afterward. The capability and speed they displayed were comparable to those who took no break.

People who had a break using their cell phone took 19% longer to do the rest of the task and solved 22% fewer problems than those taking the other types of breaks — combined.

“The act of reaching for your phone between tasks, or mid-task, is becoming more commonplace,” said Terri Kurtzberg, study co-author and associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, in a release. “It is important to know the costs associated with reaching for this device during every spare moment. We assume it’s no different from any other break – but the phone many carry increasing levels of distraction that make it difficult to return focused attention to work tasks.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions by Terri Kurtzberg, and associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, and co-author Sanghoon Kang, doctoral candidate at Rutgers Business School.