Over the past decade, smartphones have transformed human social interaction in ways that researchers are still grappling with – and some of the effects might be more upsetting than anyone could have predicted in the past.
In a paper out in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, a group of researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and the University of Virginia (UV) document two separate experiments designed to gauge the impact of scree-time on people’s ability to enjoy socialising out in the real world.
The first experiment split more than 300 participants into two groups and had them sit down for a meal with 3 to 5 friends or family members. The first group was instructed to leave their smartphones on the table, while the second group was told to put their devices out of sight.
A survey all parties to the experiment completed afterwards showed that people who had their phones where they could see them rated the outing as less enjoyable and more distracting.
“This research suggests that despite their ability to connect us to others across the globe, phones may undermine the benefits we derive from interacting with those across the table,” wrote the researchers in their paper.
While the overall effect is quite small in the acute sense, it may compound over time, causing substantial amounts of distress.
For the second experiment, researchers enrolled 123 participants and surveyed them 5 times per day for one week. Results were consistent with the first experiment, showing less enjoyment and a higher degree of distraction in people who used their phones during face-to-face social interaction.
Both experiments also found increased boredom and worse overall mood in those who struggled to put down their eye candy when sharing a moment with their close ones.
“This effect may be most pronounced when there is a mismatch in phone use between members of the group (e.g., one person in the group is using their phone, while other members in the group are not),” said study co-author Ryan Dwyer from UBC. “Further research is needed to confirm this.”
The reason phone use is different compared to myriads of other distractions we all face on a daily basis comes down not only to them being a window onto the outside world, but also their portability, which may leave us hooked and deprived of ‘real’ human contact.