Young adults using smartphones
Young adults split their attention between the televised debate and scanning Twitter on their smart phones during a debate watch party at the Local 16 bar and restaurant on 13 October 2015 in Washington, DC Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Most of us are guilty of checking our email while spending time with family, texting a friend while at work or checking our phone while having dinner with friends. With a smartphone in our pocket and all those notifications about new emails, texts, Facebook likes, Instagram followers, app updates and more continually pouring in during the day, technology is constantly competing for our attention.

Now, a study from the University of Virginia claims that the pervasiveness of smartphone notifications is making us increasingly hyperactive and could cause "ADHD-like [Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder] symptoms even among the general population."

"Less than 10 years ago, Steve Jobs promised that smartphones will change everything," said lead researcher Kostadin Kushlev. "And with the Internet in their pockets, people today are bombarded with notifications – whether from email, text messaging, social media or news apps – anywhere they go. We are seeking to better understand how this constant inflow of notifications influences our minds."

According to Kushlev, recent polls have show that up to 95% of smartphone users check their phones during social gatherings. One in 10 users reach for their phones during sex. Overall, people spend an average of almost two hours using their phone daily.

Researchers examined how 221 college students at the University of British Columbia used their smartphones over a two-week period. During the first week, half of the participants were asked to minimise phone interruptions by activating their "do-not-disturb" settings and staying away from their phones. The other half were asked to keep their phone alerts on and have their phone on hand whenever possible.

In the second week, the instructions were reversed for the two groups – the group that had their phone alerts switched off had to turn them back on, and vice versa. The students were then asked to complete a survey to determine just how distracted or hyperactive they were during each stage of the study.

Students reported many similar symptoms to ADHD when they had notifications turned on through ring or vibrate than when their phones were on silent, even though they had not been diagnosed with the disorder. Some of the symptoms reported include inattention, hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, having trouble sitting still and restlessness.

"Smartphones may contribute to these symptoms by serving as a quick and easy source of distraction," said Kushlev.

However, he did emphasise that ADHD is not just a collection of symptoms but a neurodevelopmental disorder with a biological etiology.

"Our findings suggest neither that smartphones can cause ADHD nor that reducing smartphone notifications can treat ADHD," he said. "The findings simply suggest that our constant digital stimulation may be contributing to an increasingly problematic deficit of attention in modern society."

Other studies have also highlighted the effect that smartphones and constant pinging can have on people.

In 2015, UCL researchers found smartphone use can cause "inattention deafness" where people become "temporarily deaf" because they are focusing on their smartphones rather than what is happening around them. About 41% of people admitted having a technology-related mishap, according to figures collated for Accident Awareness Week in the UK in 2015. Around 13% of people have walked into something or someone whilst checking their mobile phone – a figure that rises to 43% for younger generations.