The iPhone Effect: Psychological Impact of Mobile Devices on Social Interactions

Researchers at Virginia Tech have found that conversations without the presence of a mobile device were rated as significantly better compared to conversations with the presence of a mobile device.

The prevalence of smart devices provide an opportunity for users to connect with others online. In addition, it allows for users to easily multitask between communicating with others in person and users in the digital world. In fact, researchers have found that photographing experiences usually increases self esteem. While you may assume photo-taking may detach people from what is going on around them, research suggests that people who tend to take photos of their experiences tend to enjoy events more than people who do not. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology researchers performed nine different experiments with over 2,000 participants to examine the impact of taking photographs of an experience and measured their enjoyment of the activity. In each experiment, individuals were asked to rate their experience. Participants who took photos reported having more fun than those who did not take photos.

While a majority of social media apps are pushing for users to share more videos and photos, new research suggests the mere presence of a mobile device has negative consequences on relationships with other people.

“The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” study, which was published in the Journal of Environment and Behavior, examined the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real-life in-person social interactions. Researcher Shalini Misra called the psychological phenomenon the “iPhone Effect”.

In the field experiment, 200 different people were randomly assigned to either discuss a topic together. A trained research assistant then observed the participants from a distance over the course of 10 minutes noting whether or not a participant placed a mobile device on the table, held it in his or her hand or put their phone away. The results of the study found people rated conversations higher when a mobile device was not present.

Researchers explained, “it was found that conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device, above and beyond the effects of age, gender, ethnicity, and mood.”

In addition, participants reported lower levels of empathy when a mobile device was presence.


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