Science says smartphones are undermining our social interactions

Recent research has found that smartphones are weakening our face-to-face interactions.

What happens at the dinner table at home when there is no conversation? Does everyone pick up on smartphones? A 2015 Pew study said yes, that’s probably what you do – in the survey, 90% of respondents used their mobile phone during their most recent social activity.

Ryan Dwyer of the University of British Columbia wanted to look at the implications of this. “For the past 10 years, smartphones revolutionized the way we live, keeping us constantly connected online,” said this post-doctoral student to Psypost . “We wanted to know if this is having an impact on real-life social relationships.”

To do this, Dwyer led two studies, publishing the results in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology . The first study involved 300 participants who were divided into two groups and sent to a restaurant with their family members. They (and their families) in the first group put their cell phones on the table. The second group kept cell phones completely out of sight.

The participants then filled out a questionnaire, noting their experience at the table. The responses indicated that it was less pleasant and that people were more distracted when mobile phones were on the table. Surprise, surprise.

A second study involved 123 participants to be interviewed five times a day for a week. The results here showed that people enjoyed less and felt more distracted when they used the smartphone during face-to-face social interactions.

In both studies, the researchers noted that mobile phone use went hand in hand with annoyance and bad mood in general. In the article, Dwyer wrote that the effects of mobile phones were small, but they could accumulate over time.

He also points out that in our day-to-day lives there are a myriad of distractions, but with smartphones there is an important difference. “Mobile phones provide access to an endless array of virtual entertainments enabling them to move away from social interactions,” says Dwyer in the study.

Dwyer also adds that both governments and workplaces criticize the use of smartphones because they are a distraction with serious consequences for security and productivity.

Both formally and informally, we need to consider the social norms around smartphones because they are distracting us from actually engaging with people.


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