Only a few decades ago, telephones were relatively large objects that sat on a desk or a tabletop. You picked them up when you needed to call someone, and you never really thought about them at other times. But now it’s quite a different story, with our mobile phones giving us access not only to voice communications but also to the social media and the world wide web.
In one study conducted by phone provider Gazelle, researchers found evidence of addictive behavior. 70% of users check their mobile phones compulsively within minutes of waking up, 51% check them while on vacation, and 44% admit to feeling extremely anxious and irritable if they CAN’T continually check their phones. Another study indicates that the average college student uses his or her smartphone for over nine hours a day—longer than most of those students spend sleeping!
What does science say about mobile phone addiction?
It has been well established that people can become addicted to behaviors in much the same way they can become addicted to substances like drugs or alcohol or nicotine. Many mobile phone users begin to show signs of withdrawal when deprived of their phones for a few minutes. For such people, losing their phone or having its battery die can literally provoke a panic attack. Research suggests a person’s addiction to their smart phone increases depending on how many apps they use, especially email or social media apps. The study of college students mentioned earlier, for example, found that they spent an average of 94 minutes a day texting, 48 minutes sending emails, and 38 minutes checking Facebook.
A study by Atchley and Warden (published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition) offered students a “delayed gratification” test. They were told that they had received a text message from a significant other, and that they could either reply immediately and be paid $5, or wait several hours and be paid $100. Most chose to reply immediately, forsaking the extra cash and illustrating just how compulsive checking and responding to messages can be.
Another study conducted in Spain found that over 40% of the young adults they tested spent more than four hours per day on their mobile phones, and that many of them felt so offended at not receiving an expected reply to a text or phone call immediately that they described their feelings as “deeply upset and sad.” This study also found that mobile phone addicts tended over time to neglect important responsibilities like studies or work in favor of time spent on their phones. Some subjects in the Spanish study, when deprived of their phones, displayed symptoms of “anxiety, irritability, sleep disorders or sleeplessness, and even shivering and digestive problems.”
It is important to remember that most of the studies cited in this article are preliminary, meaning that the results have not yet been replicated by follow-up studies, however the research is certainly pointing in that direction.
Become self-aware about how you use your smart phone technology! The next time you are at a party or in a restaurant and you find yourself communicating with your phone more often than you communicate with your family and friends, consider it may NOT be that your family and friends are boring, but rather that you may have developed a few compulsive habits about your own mobile phone use that you might want to look into!