Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cellphone as Security Blanket?

Cellphone as Security Blanket?

Joel's comments:
Numerous studies have been published in the past few years reporting psychological and social consequences experienced by cell phone users, especially among adolescent and young adult smart phone users. The research demonstrates that these devices are potentially addictive. Evidence is reported for the classical signs of psychological dependence or addiction among smart phone users: escalation of use, compulsive behavior, tolerance, and withdrawal (aka nomophobia).

The following article by a social media editor at The Wall Street Journal puts a "positive spin" on this problem. The abstract for the study cited in the news article also appears below.  According to the study, "negative psychological and physiological outcomes are associated with iPhone separation." In my opinion this is unhealthy.

Recently, I did a presentation at a high school to a class that was doing a unit on cell phone radiation. The students seemed shocked to hear that I left my cell phone in my office, and that I rarely used it. Almost all said they keep their smart phone turned on and near them night and day. A few volunteered that if they forgot their smart phone, they would return home even if it made them late for class.


Cellphone as Security Blanket

It seems people are sharper mentally when their phone is near, and worry when it isn’t

Sally French, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2015
Even grown-ups need a security blanket at times to feel—and perform—their best.
And for a new generation of adults, that security blanket is their smartphone.
A recent study of iPhone users ages 18 to 24 found that people perform better on cognitive tests when their iPhones are somewhere nearby—in a pocket or purse—rather than in an opposite corner of the room.
The study, conducted by Russell Clayton of Florida State University, Glenn Leshner of the University of Oklahoma and Anthony Almond of Indiana University, required young adults to complete two word-search puzzles. The participants were told that whoever found the most words would win a gift card.
Halfway through the study, the participants were told to take out their phone and leave it in the corner of the room. 
While participants found on average nine words when their phone was with them, they only found six words when their phone was taken away.
The study also found that when participants heard their iPhone ringing but were unable to answer it, heart rate and blood pressure levels increased.
The Wall Street Journal spoke to Dr. Clayton about the study. Here are edited excerpts.
WSJ: Some people say it’s bad to have your iPhone on you at all times, but you found that people perform better when their iPhones are with them. Should we stop trying to discourage people from having their phones on them at all times?
DR. CLAYTON: It’s coming to that point where it’s something we need to accept. The answer isn’t, “Leave your phone at home.” Have it with you, but try to reduce any distractions that it may cause.
WSJ: You found that iPhones can be a major distraction, right?
DR. CLAYTON: Yes, we told all of the participants to remain seated throughout the study. One of the participants actually got up to answer her phone. She couldn’t even remain seated to do the crossword puzzle.
WSJ: How did the study come about?
DR. CLAYTON: As a friend and I were heading to dinner, we had to return home because he forgot his iPhone. He just said he needed his phone, and I felt that was a telltale sign.
WSJ: So the phone is just like a security blanket?
DR. CLAYTON: We no longer see the phone as just a device. Now we see it as a part of ourselves—as a way we communicate.
WSJ: How do you know the test subjects were nervous because they were without their phone? What if they were just nervous about their phone getting stolen?
DR. CLAYTON: They participated one at a time in the controlled laboratory. There was no risk that their phone would be stolen. Indeed, the phone was only a few feet in view from them during separation.
WSJ: So if I’m in a meeting, should I have my phone with me?
DR. CLAYTON: Our results suggest that you should have your iPhone as not to feel a “lessening of self,” but you should have it in silent mode. If you know it’s ringing, your attention will decrease during meetings.
Ms. French is social media editor for MarketWatch in San Francisco. She can be reached at sfrench@
Clayton, R. B., Leshner, G. and Almond, A. (2015), The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20: 119–135. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12109.


This study uniquely examined the effects on self, cognition, anxiety, and physiology when iPhone users are unable to answer their iPhone while performing cognitive tasks.

A 2 x 2 within-subjects experiment was conducted. Participants (N = 40 iPhone users) completed 2 word search puzzles.

Among the key findings from this study were that when iPhone users were unable to answer their ringing iPhone during a word search puzzle, heart rate and blood pressure increased, self-reported feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness increased, and self-reported extended self and cognition decreased.

These findings suggest that negative psychological and physiological outcomes are associated with iPhone separation and the inability to answer one's ringing iPhone during cognitive tasks. Implications of these findings are discussed.


The findings from our study also provide several useful advancements in this area of research. Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can severely impact attention during cognitive tasks. Perhaps not just in the case of completing cognitive tasks, but also in all areas of our lives including communicating with strangers, friends and family, colleagues, and care-providers. Simply not being able to answer one's iPhone may reduce attention toward those daily interactions. In addition, separation from one's iPhone may also impact allocation of mental resources to processing media, which raises several potential questions for message processing scholars.


Limitations of this study may also lead to several possibilities for future research. Further research into this area should consider some methodological alternatives to the current study. For instance, measuring facial electromyography as an indicator of positive/negative emotion and skin conductance as a measure of arousal/motivation activation might provide greater insight into the cognitive and emotional processes associated with iPhone separation. Due to our limited sample size, the generalizability of our findings should be approached with caution. In addition, future research should investigate psychophysiological responses to iPhone separation on other subgroups of the general population, as well as with a larger sample of cellphone users. For example, future studies should examine how different smart phone users, beyond iPhone users, are affected by cell phone separation and whether separation from other technological devices results in similar negative outcomes. Future research should also take steps to measure how simple cell phone separation (i.e., without calling participants' iPhones) affects users' cognitive and emotional responses.


This study examined how extended self, cognition, emotion, and physiology are affected when iPhone users are unable to answer their iPhone during cognitive tasks. Overall, it appears that iPhone separation negatively affects the aforementioned outcomes. The preceding results serve to propel this line of inquiry toward a better understanding of how technology separation affects users.

Also see:

Wireless Technology & Public Health Forum

How does wireless radiation produce harmful health effects? 

A mechanism proposed by Dr. Martin Pall

Has the Smart Phone Replaced the Cigarette?

Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director
Center for Family and Community Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Electromagnetic Radiation Safety

News Releases:
Twitter:                 @berkeleyprc

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