Too much time on smartphones may make consumers snub their friends, study finds

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Experts say depression or anxiety may contribute to more screen time

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia explored the social repercussions associated with spending too much time on smartphones

According to their findings, consumers are more likely to snub their friends in person by spending too much time on their phones -- and certain factors can increase that likelihood even further. 

“I observed that so many people use their phones while they are sitting with their friends at a cafe, any dining time, regardless of the relationship type,” said researcher Juhyung Sun. “People are really sensitive to their notifications. With each buzz or sound, we consciously or unconsciously look at our phones.” 

‘Phubbing’ becomes widespread

The researchers were most interested in understanding which factors most influenced consumers to snub their friends in favor of their smartphones -- a phenomenon they call “phubbing.” The team looked at personality traits and mental health factors to see how this trend impacts consumers’ relationships. 

They found that even though many people think it's disrespectful to be on their phones while with a group of people, but that doesn’t appear to change consumers’ behavior. Instead, they found that phubbing occurs most often when there are at least three people around. 

“It’s ironic that while so many people believe that phubbing behavior is rude, they still do it,” said Sun. “A majority of people phub others, and in a group, it may seem OK, because it’s just me, the speaker doesn’t notice I’m using the phone. The number of people in a group can be one reason.” 

Personalities and mental health also play a role

The study also showed that some personality traits may impact the likelihood of phubbing. For instance, participants who tended to be more agreeable, trusting, selfless, and cooperative were less likely to prioritize their phones over their in-person interactions. 

“They have a high tendency to maintain social harmony while avoiding arguments that can ruin their relationships,” Sun said. “In face-to-face conversations, people with high levels of agreeableness consider phubbing behavior rude and impolite to their conversation partners.” 

Mental health also played a role in the likelihood of people ignoring their friends and opting for their phones. The researchers learned that people with high levels of anxiety or depression are more likely to distract themselves on their phones. 

Moving forward, the researchers are curious how the massive shift to the online world during the COVID-19 pandemic will impact future in-person interactions. One of their suggestions for consumers is to turn off their phone’s notifications or even just turn the device over on the table, which signals to everyone that they’re present and engaged. 

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