You might joke that you’re addicted to your cellphone–if you’re like us, you feel naked without it. But new research shows that your smartphone addiction is no joke–because not having your phone handy when you want it can raise your blood pressure and lower your concentration.
Researchers from three universities–the University of Missouri, University of Oklahoma, and Indiana University–devised a study in which they tricked 40 iPhone users into temporarily giving up their phones before completing a puzzle.
To do that, participants were told that the study’s purpose was to test a new wireless blood pressure cuff. While still in possession of their iPhones, participants then finished a word search puzzle, while the researchers recorded heart rate and blood pressure responses. Participants also reported their levels of anxiety and how unpleasant or pleasant they felt when doing the puzzle.
The researchers then told participants that their iPhones were causing “Bluetooth interference” with the wireless blood pressure cuff, and that the phones needed to be placed further away in the room for a second word search puzzle. While working on the second puzzle, the researchers called the participants’ iPhones–which the participants heard ringing, but couldn’t reach.
Smartphone addiction withdrawal is physical
Did the suddenly phone-less users do worse on the second word search puzzle? Yep–the participants had much more trouble completing the second puzzle, when they couldn’t answer their ringing iPhones. They not only found less words in the second puzzle, but also reported feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness–and had higher heart rates and blood pressure compared to when doing the first puzzle.
“Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks,” says the study’s lead author Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate at the MU School of Journalism. “Additionally, the results suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”
A lessening of self? That’s heavy stuff. But what about users of Android, BlackBerry phones, or Windows Phone? Are those addictions any less powerful than the Cult of Apple? It’s an interesting topic that’s fueled many fires. We’re betting that no matter which horse you ride, you’ll feel just as bow-legged after walking around without it.
If you want to avoid the trauma of smartphone addiction withdrawal, Clayton’s advice is to keep your phone handy “during daily situations that involve a great deal of attention”–such as taking tests, sitting in conferences or meetings, or completing important work assignments–or else risk poorer performance. That’s bad news for teachers who enforce a “no phone” policy during tests, or bosses who discourage employee phone use in meetings.
Do does this mean we’ll do just fine on a test or work assignment while our phones constantly distract us? Probably not–so maybe there’s a perfect balance to strive for here–keep the phone close by for peace of mind, but don’t answer calls or messages unless they are emergencies.
The study, “The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology,” is published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and received a best paper award at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication this past August in Montreal. You can check out the full study here, and you can find out more about Clayton’s work in computer-mediated communication and human-computer interaction, here.