A new study suggests that smart phones can lead to negative relationship outcomes, through an action called "phubbing.”
We live in a time where it is extremely common to meet somebody who is completely preoccupied by his or her smartphone, but there remains a perilously low amount of research surrounding the psychological effects of always being “plugged in.” According to a new study from Baylor University, however, has shown that smart phones can contribute to strained romantic relationships and even increased levels of depression.
According to Dr. James A. Roberts, the Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, and Dr. Meredith David, an assistant professor of marketing, cell phones are one of the biggest reasons why people feel depressed in a romantic relationship. The study was titled “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners,” and was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
The researchers even coined a new term in the study: phubbing. Phubbing refers to the idea of “partner phone snubbing,” when a person pays more attention to their cell phone than their partner in their relationship. They conducted two separate surveys of 453 American adults to determine what effects this had on the health of relationships and peoples’ overall mental state.
The scientists found that when somebody felt like their partner was phubbing them, a conflict would arise. Because this interaction is so frequent and subtle, many people translated their response into an overall lower level of satisfaction with their relationship. These decreased levels of satisfaction, Dr. Roberts, explained, led to an overall lower level of satisfaction in life, which in many cases translated into depression.
In the first survey, Dr. Roberts and Dr. David created a scale with nine degrees of snubbing to describe what might happen in a situation where someone pays more attention to their phone than to their partner. The initial survey questioned 308 adults, asking them a wide range of questions to determine the effects of their cell phone behavior on their overall relationship satisfaction.
The questions asked if partners keep their cell phones in a visible spot when the pair is together, whether or not partners keep their cell phones in their hands while interacting, whether or not partners glance at their cell phones in the middle of a conversation, and if checking back in on their cell phone is the first thing they do to respond to a lull in a conversation.
The development of such a scale is important for the study, because it allows doctors to examine phubbing as a completely distinct phenomenon than peoples’ general attitude toward cell phones. It is also distinct from people’s involvement with smart phones, other conflicts that can arise out of the use of mobile technology, and addiction issues.
The second branch of the study examined 145 adults’ responses to phubbing in the context of their romantic relationships. In addition to answering other questions, respondents answered the nine survey questions from the earlier part of the study.
The second survey also examined conflicts induced by cell phones, satisfaction with relationships as a whole, satisfaction with life overall, depression and interpersonal attachment levels. Interpersonal attachment describes the level of security in a relationship, and whether or not one of the parties is “attached” to the other.