Phone Separation Anxiety: It’s Real and It’s Happening

The cell phone has become a common part of our daily lives as one of the most popular tools for communicating. Since the introduction of the mobile phone to the masses, there never seems to be a day we don’t have our phones with us. From the time we wake and to the time we go to sleep, we always have our phone with us. Even so, there has been little research on the impact of mobile phone usage and what happens when people are separated from their devices. Recently, studies have found that mobile phone separation can have serious physiological and psychological effects on users, including poor performance in cognitive tests (based on the research from the University Of Missouri).

The researchers have stated that these findings suggest that mobile phone users should avoid parting or separating with their phones in daily situations that involve a great deal of attention like completing important work assignments, taking tests, sitting in conferences or meetings. The researchers said that being separated from the phone will actually result in poor cognitive performance in said tasks.

What the Research Found

According to lead author Russel Clayton, doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the results from the study suggest that a mobile phone is capable of becoming an extension of ourselves that, when it gets separated, will cause people to experience a lessened sense of self and a negative physiological state. Former professor of University of Missouri Glenn Leshner and doctoral student at Indiana University-Bloomington Anthony Almond found that when mobile phone users are unable to answer their ringing phone while tackling simple word puzzles, the heart and blood pressure goes up. They also found that their performance decreased as compared to when the test subjects performed and completed the same word search puzzle while in possession of their mobile phones.

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How Was The Research Done

To find out the effects of phone separation anxiety, University of Missouri researchers asked the mobile phone users to place themselves at a computer cubicle in a media psychology laboratory. The researchers told the study subjects that the purpose of the study was to test the reliability of the new blood pressure wireless cuff. The participants completed the first word search puzzle with their mobile phone in their possession and the second word search  puzzle without their mobile phone. The researchers monitored their blood and heart rates while doing the puzzles.

While the test subjects were completing their tasks, the researchers recorded blood pressure levels and heart rate responses while in possession of their phone. The test subjects relayed and reported their anxiety levels and how unpleasant or pleasant they felt while doing the task. During the next phase of the experiment, the test subjects were informed that their mobile phone was causing interference with the wireless pressure cuff and that they needed to be placed in another space in the room without their phone for the final phase of the experiment. The researchers gave a second set of word puzzles and while the participants were working on them, the researchers called their phone. The researchers took and recorded the blood pressure and heart rate of the participants after the phone stopped ringing and they found out that anxiety levels, blood and heart rates all went up.

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How Attached Are You to Your Mobile Phone?

Anyone who owns a smartphone will surely confess that they have experienced phone anxiety at one point or another. Some will also confess that they are emotionally attached to their smartphones. Are we really getting so  attached to our mobile gadgets, that we feel like we’ve lost an arm or a leg whenever we don’t have them in our possession?

This is what a scientist in the UK and Iceland hope to answer in a legitimate forum and experiment. University Of Iceland’s Gisli Thorsteinsson and Loughborough University’s Tom Page explain how the emergence of smartphones has made people emotionally attached to their devices. The iPhone in 2007 gave users the a “pocket computer” that allowed them to make phone calls, send text messages, have quick access to social media sites, email, video clips, their music files and the internet using a slick touch screen interface. Today, we have numerous brands and design that cater to everyone’s liking. It is a great indication of technological advancement, but it is also becoming a norm for many people to get distracted by their smartphone. Distractions, not from missed calls or text messages, but with numerous apps, countless notifications from social sites and other mobile software. In some circles, it is even considered a sign of being inept if a person does not have constant connection to the larger world using their smartphone.

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The study used a questionnaire provided by the scientists to 205 smartphone owners between the ages of  16 and 64 years old from different countries including China, Hong Kong, UK, USA, Australia and Peru. The research team made a case study and presented a preliminary conclusion that people do grow emotionally attached to their mobile  phones and other mobile devices, or at least to the connectivity and the technology that the devices provide to users. The researchers also stated that the ease of which the smartphone can be used affected the level of need to keep them close.

The team also concluded that smart devices are creating a ripple in the murky pond of human behavior. As smartphones continue to develop, there should be further study regarding the effects on human emotions, behavior and emotional attachments.


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