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Cell Phone Distraction Effects People’s Enjoyment of a Face-to-Face Interaction

10 August 2018

Two studies about social media and phone distraction and its effect on relationships will be presented at the American Psychological Association’s conventions this week.

The first study had a field experiment of phone use during a dinner and a survey that participants submitted five times a day. These studies found that smartphones and social media use when interacting with other people reduces the enjoyment of the real-life interaction.

"People who were allowed to use their phones during dinner had more trouble staying present in the moment," said Ryan Dwyer of the University of British Columbia, lead author of a study that was presented during a symposium on how digital technology is affecting relationships. "Decades of research on happiness tell us that engaging positively with others is critical for our well-being. Modern technology may be wonderful, but it can easily sidetrack us and take away from the special moments we have with friends and family in person."

The restaurant experiment studied 300 adults and university students in Vancouver, Canada. The participants were asked to do one of two things with their phones. One group was asked to keep their phones on the dinner table with the ringer or vibrate on. The other group was asked to turn their phones to silent and place the phone in a container where they could not access them during the dinner. After the participants ended their meal, they filled out a questionnaire about their feelings of social connectedness, enjoyment of the interactions, boredom, amount of time spent on their phones and what they did while on their phones. The questionnaire found that people who interacted with their phones during the dinner reported more distraction and had overall less enjoyment during the meal.

The survey part had 120 participants from the University of Virginia. The participants were surveyed five times a day for one week. They reported how they were feeling and what they were doing 15 minutes before starting the study. The survey found that they felt more distracted during face-to-face interactions if they had just used their phones. They also said they felt less enjoyment and interest in interaction if they were previously on their phones.

"The survey findings were especially notable because of the negative effects of phone use among university students, who are commonly known as digital natives," said Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study and symposium presenter. "We assumed that this generation would be more adept at multi-tasking between using their phones and interacting with others, but we found out even moderate levels of phone use undermined the benefits of engaging with others."

The second study to be presented at the convention focused on what kind of person spends more time on their phones. The researchers found that compassionate people spend less time on their phones and social media than self-centered people. The study also found that people with lower emotional intelligence were more likely to use social media than those who are in touch with their feelings.

"People who are uncomfortable with their own and others' emotions may be more comfortable online," said Sara Konrath, Ph.D., of Indiana University. "We think that they may prefer text-based interactions that allow them more time to process social and emotional information."

This study was built on previous research on the link between narcissism and social media use. The researchers analyzed data from four previous studies of over 1,200 adult participants. They used the existing scales for assessing narcissism, empathy, emotional intelligence and emotion recognition. The researchers asked questions about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram use.

This study found that empathetic people use Twitter less than people who are less caring. It was found that people who use Facebook and Instagram less are more likely to see the world through other’s lens and people who scored high on a test of reading emotions use Facebook and Twitter less. More narcissistic people and people who feel overwhelmed by the emotions of others tend to spend more time on social media.

"Does being more emotionally intelligent and empathic cause people to avoid social media, or are lower empathy people more drawn to it? It could also be the opposite: Perhaps frequently using social media can impair empathy and emotional intelligence," said Konrath. "We cannot determine causality with this study. We need more research to better understand how online digital technology affects people, for better or for worse."

This research will be presented at the American Psychological Association convention this week.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@ieeeglobalspec.com


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