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Smartphones have been shown to distract people from their main tasks (e.g., studying, working), but the psychological mechanisms underlying these distractions are not clear yet. In the current study, we tested whether the distracting nature of smartphones stems from their high associated (social) reward value. Participants (N = 117) performed a visual search task while they were distracted by (a) high social reward cues (e.g., Facebook app icon + notification sign), (b) low social reward cues (e.g., Facebook app icon), and (c) no social reward cues (e.g., Weather app icon). We further expected that the distraction effect would be more pronounced for participants who had been deprived of using their phone. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that smartphone cues that were presumably associated with high (vs. low or no) social rewards did not impair visual search speed. Surprisingly, deprived participants were faster than non-deprived participants. These results indicate that mere smartphone app icons are not necessarily associated with rewards. However, the absence of a smartphone may increase motivation which again may boost performance.
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