Cell phone dependence ‘just as real as substance addiction’

Published on December 7, 2012 at 9:15 AM · No Comments

By Hannah Noel, medwireNews Reporter

Cell phone and instant messaging addictions are similar to compulsive buying or substance addiction and are driven by materialism and impulsiveness, says a Baylor University study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

The data emerged from a self-report survey of 191 college undergraduates to measure materialism, impulsiveness, and mobile phone and instant messaging addiction (MPA and IMA). In the study, impulsivity was shown to increase both MPA and IMA to a similar degree; however, materialism had an even larger effect on the two factors.

Study co-author James Roberts (Baylor Hankamer School of Business, Texas, USA) explained in a press statement: "Cell phones are used as part of the conspicuous consumption ritual and also act as a pacifier for the impulsive tendencies of the user."

Roberts and co-author Stephen Pirog (Seton Hall University, New Jersey, USA) claim that this is the first study to investigate the role materialism plays in cell phone addiction. They note that materialism, or the over-emphasis on worldly possessions, is a fundamental factor behind consumer behavior, including cell phone use.

The survey posed statements such as "the first thing I do each morning is check my mobile (or IM account) for missed calls or messages," "I feel lost without my mobile phone (IM)," "I find it hard to control my mobile phone (IM) use." Responses were recorded on a 7-point Likert scale, with a higher score reflecting a higher level of dependency.

Impulsiveness was measured using Puri's 12-item scale and respondents were asked how well certain adjectives (impulsive, careless, extravagant, easily tempted, and enjoy spending) described them. Materialism was measured using Mowen's 4-item scale, asking the students to rate how well the following phrases applied to them: "enjoy buying nice things," "enjoy owing luxurious things," "acquiring valuable things is important to me," and "like to own nice things more than most people."

Previous research has shown that young adults are profligate mobile phone users, sending on average 109.5 texts and checking their phones around 60 times in a typical day. However, this disproportionate use is not simply a youthful fad, as a body of evidence has shown that the psychologic compulsion behind this excess is very similar to drug addictions.

In the press statement and accompanying interview, Roberts explains that technologic addictions (a subset of behavioral addictions) are no different from substance addictions in that users get some kind of reward from cell phone use, resulting in pleasure. He adds: "Cell phones are a part of our consumer culture, as both a tool and status symbol. They're also eroding our personal relationships. A majority of young people claim that losing their cell phone would be disastrous to their social lives."

The authors conclude that, owing to the multiple functions performed by cell phones, researchers should "dig beneath" the technology per se and examine the activities or "apps" that are driving dependency.

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