New research suggests that while cell phones are thought of as devices that connect people, in reality, their use may disrupt community involvement and make users less socially minded.
University of Maryland researchers Drs. Anastasiya Pocheptsova and Rosellina Ferraro conducted a series of experiments on test groups of cell phone users and found that mobile phone use influences pro-social behavior — actions intended to benefit another person or society as a whole. Such behaviors are more commonly referred to as altruism.
The study found that after a short period of cell phone use the subjects were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity when asked, compared to the control-group counterparts.
The cell phone users were also less persistent in solving word problems — even though they knew their answers would translate to a monetary donation to charity.
Researchers discovered the decreased focus on others held true even when participants were merely asked to draw a picture of their cell phones and think about how they used them.
In the study, separate sets of college student subjects, both men and women and generally in their early 20s, were followed.
“We would expect a similar pattern of effects with people from other age groups,” said Ferraro. “Given the increasing pervasiveness of cell phones, it does have the potential to have broad social implications.”
The authors believe their findings agree with previous research that found cell phones help an individual connect to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong. Since the need to belong is satisfied, the motivation to further connect with others or to engage in empathic and procsocial behavior is reduced.
The study also compared cell phone users to those that used Facebook. Researchers discovered participants felt more connected to others because of their cell phones than because of their Facebook accounts.
This association suggests the perception of connectedness is the underlying driver of the observed phenomenon.
Source: University of Maryland