Anxiety and smart phones
Smartphones are causing some users to experience heightened anxiety when used for social interactions, new research from Britain shows.
The distress stems from the persistent need many users feel to repeatedly review and immediately respond to any incoming email, text, tweet or alert. Such compulsive behavior has lead researchers to suggest that the mushrooming use of smartphones to sustain social connections, friendships and personal networks is associated with increased stress.
The research, conducted by British psychologist Richard Balding, MSc, of the University of Worcester, England and his colleagues, was presented at a conference of the British Psychological Society in Chester, England on January 12, 2012.
Surprisingly, though, the investigators found that the devices, including iPhones, Blackberries and Androids, did not result in a rise in stress levels when used for professional purposes. Instead, the added stress was found in social settings. Despite the ability of the phones to provide instant connections with friends and family, the handheld gadgets were actually contributing to stress, rather than alleviating it when used to manage personal contacts, the results revealed.
More than 100 people were recruited to participate in Balding’s study, responding to questions about their phone usage in surveys and completing a psychometric stress test. The participants included university students, retail industry employees and government workers.
The findings revealed that the multi-purpose phones were initially utilized to manage work obligations but ultimately became tools to control social networks. And as that type of usage increased so did the stress levels. Also, the results showed that 37 percent of adults and 60 percent of teenagers considered themselves addicted to their phones.
Additionally, those reporting the greatest increases in anxiety stated that they experienced phantom vibrations of new incoming messages even when no such alerts actually arrived. Many also reported feeling unhappy or stressed when their phones were turned off or when they did not receive any new messages.
As noted by other researchers not involved in the study, more research is necessary before a cause-and-effect relationship can be confirmed. It may be that people who are already stressed are more prone to repeatedly check their devices and always keep them turned on. On the other hand, many people are able to moderate their usage to ensure it is helpful, time saving, convenient and enjoyable, rather than a source of stress, tension and disappointment.
Nevertheless, the study, considered preliminary as it has not yet been published in a scientific journal, lead investigators to suggest that employers be aware of the added stress and negative impact smartphones may have on their employees.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-third of American adults have a smartphone, with an overwhelming majority using the devices to access emails or to search the internet daily.
Additional uses include gaming, watching videos through such sites as YouTube, and managing social networks via Facebook. With the rapid influx of new apps introduced to the public, and the devices' ability to provide constant information, instant news and ongoing entertainment, smartphones are expected to continue proliferating rapidly throughout the world.