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Cell Phone Use Linked To Selfish Behavior, Says Study

by Adriana Lee | March 1, 2012March 1, 2012 9:00 pm PST

Are the trusty cell phones we use, carry, and even coddle turning us into a bunch of selfishly driven social miscreants? That’s what one study from the University of Maryland aimed to find out.

The study comes from marketing professors at UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, who published their findings in a working paper titled “The Effect of Mobile Phone Use on Prosocial Behavior.” (“Prosocial behavior” here indicates human activity that benefits others.)

The researchers ran experiments on college kids in their 20s, gauging their actions after a short period of cell phone usage. The study compared these users against a control group, and came up with some interesting findings:

  • subjects were not as inclined to volunteer for community service
  • subjects showed less determination in solving word problems, despite the fact that solutions would yield charitable donations
  • subjects were less focused on others. (This decrease in focus was even evident when they were instructed to draw a picture of their phones and think about their own usage of them)

What is it about phones that enables them to turn human beings into self-centered jerks? Is it the singular, isolating user experience? Or are modern humans just unable to connect with others in a meaningful way?

Actually, in a surprise twist, it’s quite the opposite.

According to the study’s authors, “The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” In other words, we still have a deep desire to socialize and connect with others, only we’re satisfying it with our phones now. In fact, we find using them so fulfilling that we simply don’t feel the need to reach out further.

Interestingly, the scenario seems unique to these devices. When one of the tests in this study put Facebook usage under a similar microscope, the users didn’t find these interactions as fulfilling.

What’s your take on this? Should we be concerned if people are increasingly relying on their mobile gadgets for human interaction and connection?

[via ScienceDaily, source University of Maryland, photo courtesy of John Consoli/UMD]

Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...