Study: iPhone Separation Anxiety Is An Actual Thing

How crazy is it that some part of us is beginning to see our phones as extensions of ourselves?
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Publish date:
January 20, 2015
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tech, wtf, news, smartphone, iPhone, separation anxiety

A new study from the University of Missouri found that people can suffer serious psychological and physiological effects when separated from their phones. Despite the fact that our collective cell phone obsession is the world’s favorite thing to talk about, very little research exists on what happens when our iPhones are taken away from us. Based on this study’s results, researchers are suggesting that people actually keep their phones on hand when doing a task that requires heavy focus like taking tests, sitting in meetings, and carrying out work assignments – if a person is too preoccupied stressing over not having their phone, they’re more likely to have worse cognitive performance on the task. Even weirder is this statement to Science Daily from study lead author Russell Clayton: “Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.” Unsettling, right?

To conduct the research, iPhone users were told they were participating in an experiment that would test the reliability of a wireless blood pressure cuff. They were asked to sit at a computer cubicle to complete simple word search puzzles, during which their blood pressure and heart rates were monitored. Afterward, they answered questions about their anxiety levels and how pleasant or unpleasant they felt. For the first puzzle, they got to keep their phones in their possession. For the second round, they were told the iPhones were interfering with the blood pressure cuffs’ Bluetooth system and had to be placed across the room. As participants were working on the puzzle, the researchers called the subjects’ phones to see how they’d react. The team found that when the participants were barred from picking up their ringing phones, their heart rate and blood pressure rose along with feelings of anxiety. (Smartphone users, so 99 percent of you, I’ll bet most of you can relate to this on some level!) Users’ performance on the puzzles decreased when their phones were not in their possession. Maybe someone should tell that to whoever makes the no-phone policies at high schools?

How crazy is it that some part of us is beginning to see our phones as extensions of ourselves? I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised, because what else would we expect from a device that can do so much and, at times, demands so much availability and engagement from its users? If you’re a person who is always prompt in answering texts and calls, others come to expect that behavior from you and may get worried if you take a few hours off (what a weird world we live in!). I’m not always great about responding ASAP, but I definitely check my phone on the regular and have a tendency to feel a little twitchy without it. There are times, of course, where putting my phone away is totally freeing and I don’t even want it back, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take me several hours or even days of adjusting to get to that point. General FOMO is definitely a part of it, but my biggest hang-up about not havingmy phone is that I wouldn’t be able to be reached if some kind of emergency happened to someone I loved. It’s a pretty rare scenario (knock on wood!) but that doesn’t stop the paranoia! Another reason I get attached to my phone is that rather than just an extension of myself, I start to see the phone as an extension of my friends and family, as if they’re all crammed into that little glowing box together or something. Lots of them live hundreds of miles away, and even the people who live close to me are best reached with a call or a text. When my phone is in my hand, it feels like everyone I love is within arm’s reach, as odd as it sounds. Have you ever felt this way? I’m all about taking vacations from smartphones now and then, but can we ever actually break free?

Reprinted with permission from the Frisky. Want more? Check out these related stories:

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