Why You Can’t Put Your iPhone Down

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

For many people, the iPhone has become an indispensable tool that provides them with a quick and easy way to browse the Internet, check email, take photos, and — last, but not least — make phone calls. So it’s understandable that many people would feel anxious about losing or misplacing this multifunctional electronic device. Most of us have probably experienced that momentary feeling of panic when you reach into your pocket for your smartphone only to find that it has mysteriously migrated to another pocket. While many of us may be familiar with this feeling, we have probably never considered the impact that this phenomena has on our psychological wellbeing. Until now, that is.

A recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri found that “negative psychological and physiological outcomes are associated with iPhone separation and the inability to answer one’s ringing iPhone during cognitive tasks.” The researchers based their conclusions on several experiments in which participants were asked to complete word-search puzzles while having their blood pressure and heart rate readings monitored. Various participants completed the puzzles both with and without their iPhones in their possession.

Furthermore, after the participants in the experiment had their iPhones taken away, the researchers disabled the silent mode on the devices and called the participants’ phones. As noted by the researchers, iPhone users were specifically recruited for the experiment due to the ease with which the silent mode can be disabled on the iPhone. Any changes in the participants’ blood pressure and heart rate readings were noted while the phones were ringing. After each phase of the experiment, participants were also asked to complete multiple tests designed to assess their feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness.

Man uses an Apple iPhone in Tokyo, Japan on July 16, 2014

Source: Atsushi Tomura/ Getty Images

“The data showed that the inability to answer one’s iPhone while it was ringing activated the aversive motivational system (increases in heart rate and unpleasantness), and also led to a decline in cognitive performance. In addition, physiological levels of anxiety (blood pressure) increased in response to iPhone separation,” concluded the researchers. “In contrast, when participants completed word-search puzzles with their iPhone in their possession, heart rate and blood pressure levels returned to baseline and cognitive performance increased. Again, self-reported feelings of unpleasantness and anxiety reflected participants’ physiological responses such that perceived levels of unpleasantness and anxiety were lowest when participants were in possession of their iPhone.”

As noted by the researchers, the “iPhone separation” study builds on previous work by other researchers who have defined new disorders related to people’s dependence on mobile technologies. One of those disorders is called “Nomophobia,” a portmanteau of the phrase “no mobile phone” and the word “phobia.” Perhaps this latest disorder can be termed “Noiphobia?”

Whatever it’s called, researchers recommended that iPhone owners afflicted with this condition should bring their mobile devices with them when they attempt tasks that require extra concentration or attention. “Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks,” said doctoral candidate and lead author of the study Russell Clayton, according to a University of Missouri press release. “Additionally, the results from our study 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.”

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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