Is cell phone addiction good or bad?

January 29, 2015

Your parents always seem to be telling you to get off your phone, shut down your laptop or iPad and do your homework. Or actually have a conversation in person.

Well, research shows that they may be wrong…or right.

First, check out a study that says they’re wrong.

A Ph.D student from the University of Missouri School of Journalism (along with two others) recruited 40 iPhone users and told them they were going to test the reliability of a new wireless blood pressure cuff. (They didn’t say they were studying cell phone use). The participants kept their phones with them during their heart rate and blood pressure measurement. Then they did a word search puzzle. Researchers measured their heart rate and blood pressure again and asked participants how anxious they felt during the puzzle and whether they felt pleasant or unpleasant.

Then they had the 40 people place their phones further away but where they could still see them and take another word search test.

During the second puzzle, researchers called the participants’ phones and let them ring. After that, they measured their heart rate and blood pressure and asked how anxious and unpleasant they felt. Not surprisingly, the participants had a lot more anxiety and higher heart rate and blood pressure levels–and performed a lot worse on the puzzle. Yet the researchers concluded that the participants tested poorly on the puzzle and had more anxiety because they were separated from their phones which had become an extension of themselves. More likely, their poor performance was caused by the distraction of the ringing phones. If the researchers turned the ringers off or placed the phones where the participants could not see or hear them, the results would certainly have been better. Still, the researchers said their findings suggest that iPhone users should keep their phones on them during situations where they need to pay close attention, like taking a test or participating at a conference or meeting, since they might not do as well.

Now let’s compare those findings to research done by high school senior Michelle Abi Hackman, who won second place in the Intel Science Talent Search back in 2011 for a study involving teens separated from their cell phones. She had read that people couldn’t separate from their phones because they got anxious. So she recruited 150 students in her high school to sit in a room alone, one by one. Some had their phones and some didn’t. Each student was attached to a galvanic skin-response monitor used to measure their anxiety levels.

Since she’s blind, Michelle used computer software and recruited 10 student assistants to read aloud the printouts to her. Her research suggested that “teens relieved of their cell phones might feel more listless”. She explained on NPR that the teens had addictive tendencies and went through what seemed like withdrawal symptoms when they were away from the stimulation of their phones. They basically didn’t know how to entertain themselves. Or feel calm when they weren’t tapped into what was happening every second.

So…the high school student studied more participants (150 vs. 40) and proved your parents right as compared to weaker research done by Ph.D. students that proves your parents wrong. See what your parents think about these studies and regardless of what you decide, try turning your phone off and figuring out some other cool things to do. You’ll at least prove to yourself that you can survive and even thrive unplugged.

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