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Cellphone Addiction: What the Latest Study Does and Doesn’t Tell Us

Cellphone Addiction: What the Latest Study Does and Doesn’t Tell Us

A new study reveals that cellphone addiction could be a very real problem among young adults, but it’s important to put the study’s findings in context and examine what the study really can tell us.

The research, conducted at Baylor University and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, surveyed 164 college students about 24 specific cellphone-related activities, as well as attempting to gauge how much time they spent on the devices. Right off the bat, it’s worth highlighting that approximately 60 percent of respondents said they felt they might be addicted to using their mobile phones, a figure that while self-reported (via carefully calibrated survey questions) is perhaps telling that this is something that is on the minds of our young adults.

The research specifically looked at how much time people spent using their phones to go on social media sites like Facebook, as well as social picture sites like Pinterest, and chat apps like Snapchat, as well as more general things like texting and sending emails.

The researchers found that, on average, the people in the sample spent 94.6 minutes a day texting. Sending emails on their phone clocked in at 48.5 minutes, while checking Facebook scored a still substantial 38.6 minutes. General Internet browsing also took up a substantial part of the day, registering 34.4 minutes. In total, the sample reported spending an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones.

There was also an interesting gender breakdown here. While it’s often suggested that men are more likely to be tech-loving, it’s actually women who tend to use their phones more. The researchers found that while men send roughly the same number of emails from their phones, the young women in the study tended to use the social media apps on their phones far more, as well as texting and emailing more. This was all done as a means of keeping in touch and servicing “deep” relationships.

When men did use social media, they tended to use Twitter in order to follow the news and sports, as well as general cellphone use to catch up with their friends. To be clear, they weren’t immune to what we might class as overuse of cellphones, but their general usage wasn’t as high as that of their female counterparts.

Interestingly, a couple of sites/apps emerged as ones that could be associated with obsessive behavior. Social camera app Instagram was one, and picture gathering Pinterest another. As to why these sites are so addictive, the study could not say, but some lures that had been thought to be addictive, like games, didn’t come out in the data, so clearly this is an area for future research.

The researchers believe that this study shows that cellphones definitely do enrich our lives, but as a number of students reported feeling anxious when their phones weren’t in their sight, and other anxiety-related feelings, they could also be a problem for the mental health of our young adults if usage isn’t carefully managed:

“Cellphones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms,” researcher James Roberts is quoted as saying. “We need to identify the activities that push cellphone use from being a helpful tool to one that undermines our well-being and that of others.”

This research is significant in that it is one of the largest studies to look at the topic of potential cellphone addiction among college-age students. It also carries weight because it attempts to look specifically at what sites/apps may produce addictive behavior, which in the long term could help us investigate potential unhealthy use and help people deal with that problem.

However, while the sample gives us some meaningful talking points, it is a relatively small sample of people and we would have to find a larger, random population sample to draw more concrete conclusions. As such, this study provides a good foundation for future research and tells us that there is a possibility that cellphone addiction could be a problem, particularly for young people and young adults but we still need to find out more about our smartphone habits before we can really begin to formulate evidence-based medical recommendations.

For more information on how cellphones both enrich our lives but could possibly exacerbate mental health problems, please click here.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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38 comments

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9:44AM PDT on Sep 5, 2014

It's unfortunate that so many people truly are addicted to their cell / smart phones. It's impossible to go anywhere these days without being annoyed by someone's loud and inconsiderate conversation, whether it's at a restaurant or supermarket or retail store or lecture hall or whatever. This is the downside to modern technology - i.e. selfishness and inconsideration towards others ... not to mention risking other peoples' lives while driving and texting. Incidentally, I see just as many adults engaging in this extremely rude behavior as I see younger folks!

7:59AM PDT on Sep 5, 2014

I've had a cell phone for my commute since 1993. I have NO IDEA what my phone number is. I've never felt a need. It is for EMERGENCIES only. I'm not that important. Some people need it as a soother because solitude scares them. Solitude is nice.
People texting & using phones in cars bug the hell out of me & are dangerous. It is against the law here with fines up to $1000 & soaring insurance costs for everyone.
The first time I saw a Bluetooth (if that's what it was, I don't even know) was in a grocery store. A woman was talking into a barrel of watermelons. I thought she was an escapee from an asylum.

7:49PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

I spend a lot of time on my celphone since I keep in touch with family and friends, I sign petitions, to "click" daily and help animals...

5:40PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

Last summer I was sitting outside with my brother and his kids. All of them and their cousins were on cell phones, texting and playing games. My brother and I were the only two people talking to each other. Now he has an iphone and has joined the crowd of constant contact! Not me. I'd rather be out sailing or cycling or visiting with friends.

5:36PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

This is a generational issue, right? I'm an old man and I've got a "dumb" cell phone that I'm perfectly happy with. I use my desktop for all my net stuff. I guess I'm going to be left behind when the singularity finally happens.

3:58PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

I'm female and although I don't spend 10 hours a day on my cellphone, I do FB, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Pixlr+, Google Search, eMail, text, take pictures, Bit Strips and sometimes, but rarely, talk on my phone;))

2:50PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

It's a horrible addiction, and all you see these days are the top of peoples head, and not the face.

1:17PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

My phone is my pocket size PC...
I love using Skype from my phone, it's more convenient...
Love using Kindle.
However I can leave it well alone also..

12:38PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

i have prepaid and never use it,sick of seeing people talk and/or text accross the room

11:03AM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

Being addictive to one's cellphone,, is a lot better than being addicted to drugs and alcohol...

No biggie,, let people do what they may....

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