Labor/leisure decisions in their natural context: The case of the smartphone


In this research, we attempt to understand a common real-life labor/leisure decision, ie, to perform cognitive work or to interact with one’s smartphone. In an ecologically valid experiment, participants (N= 112) could freely switch back and forth between a doing a 2-back task and interacting with their own smartphone. We manipulated the value of the 2-back task (by varying the value of monetary rewards; within-subjects) and of the smartphone (by switching on and off airplane mode; within-subjects) while we recorded incoming notifications, such as text messages. Our study produced three main findings: 1) the current value of the smartphone did not increase our statistical model’s ability to predict switches from labor to leisure when the current task value was also taken into account; 2) however, participants reacted strongly to naturally incoming notifications, which were the strongest predictor of labor-to-leisure switches; 3) there was no evidence that taking into account individual differences (in the value assigned to labor and leisure) improved the model’s ability to predict labor-leisure switches. In sum, using a situated approach to studying labor/leisure decisions, our findings highlight the importance of high task motivation, as well as the temporary distractive potential of smartphone notifications, when people face the challenge to stay focused on their productive tasks.

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review