A research team from the University of Granada (UGR) has demonstrated that it’s not mobile phones themselves to which people are “addicted,” but rather the social interactions they facilitate. This study, recently published in the journal Psicothema, offers the first experimental scientific support for a theory initially proposed in 2018 by Samuel P.L. Veissière, a scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
To conduct the experiment, the UGR scientists worked with a sample of 86 subjects who were divided into two groups.
“In one of the groups (the social expectation group), we instructed each participant to send a message via WhatsApp to their most active contacts explaining that they were going to participate in an exciting task in a virtual reality universe (the same message in all cases),” explains Jorge López Puga, a researcher at the UGR’s Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment and lead author of the study.
The other group (the control group) was not asked to send this “exciting” message to their contacts. “Next, we asked both groups of people to switch off their notifications and leave their mobile phones face down on the table while they engaged in an unusual activity immersed in a virtual reality environment. When the interaction with the virtual reality task was over, we left the participants idle and unable to use their phones. After this period of doing nothing, we allowed all participants to return to using WhatsApp,” the researcher notes.
Throughout the process, the UGR scientists measured the electrodermal activity of the skin, a parameter taken as an indicator of the activity of our autonomic nervous system, i.e. a kind of physiological measure of anxiety.
“We observed that the social expectation group was more tense throughout the experiment. We also found that this group became more anxious when they were asked to stop using their mobile phones. Moreover, when they were allowed to use their phones again, this group experienced a much higher level of emotional arousal,” says López Puga.
The results show that mobile phones are not the cause of psychological problems, but rather that how and why the devices are used can better explain certain psychological problems.
Reference: “Social Expectancy Increases Skin Conductance Response in Mobile Instant Messaging Users” by Ana María Ruiz-Ruano García, Ana Sánchez-Kuhn, Pilar Flores and Jorge López Puga, 2023, Psicothema.