People who can't put down their phones may be impulsive and impatient, according to a new study conducted at Temple University, which reveals that people who are always checking and re-checking their phones are significantly less able to to delay gratification and significantly more impulsive compared to their less obsessive counterparts.
With the rise of smartphone and mobile technology, researchers Henry Wilmer and Jason Chein, who are both psychologists at Temple University, said that it's important to understand potential problems that could arise from heavy phone use.
To understand how phone usage is linked to mental processes and personality traits, researchers had 91 undergraduate students complete a series of questionnaires and cognitive tests.
Participants were asked questions that helped gauge the amount of time they spent using their phones for social media purposes, to post public status updates, and to just check their phones.
Participants' tendency to delay gratification for better rewards were determined by their choice of choosing between options of smaller sums of money given immediately or larger sums of money given at a later time. They were also asked to complete experimental tasks that measured their ability to control impulses as well as their tendencies to go after rewarding stimuli.
Chein and Wilmer said that the study results revealed an important trigger among people who are usually glued to their phones. They explained that when phone-obsessed people check their phones, it triggers an impulse that makes them want to check their phones over and over again for the sake of simply checking their phones rather than actually hoping to gain some reward from it.
"Mobile technology habits, such as frequent checking, seem to be driven most strongly by uncontrolled impulses and not by the desire to pursue rewards," Wilmer said.
"The findings provide important insights regarding the individual difference factors that relate to technology engagement," Chein added. "These findings are consistent with the common perception that frequent smartphone use goes hand in hand with impatience and impulsivity."
"The current findings extend a growing literature demonstrating the links between technology habits and aspects of cognitive functioning-for example, working memory, attention, and executive functioning-and has potentially important implications for our understanding of the factors that motivate technology use habits," the researchers wrote in the study.
"In considering the question 'What drives people to engage with their smartphones?', one might offer two seemingly reasonable answers: (1) individuals are unable to withhold the impulse to check, whether driven by endogenous thoughts or exogenous cues, and (2) individuals engage with their phones in an attempt to seek out a rewarding stimulus. Ultimately, the present evidence leads us to the conclusion that mobile technology habits, such as frequent checking, are driven most strongly by uncontrolled impulses and not by the desire to pursue rewards," they concluded.
The study was published in the March 15 issue of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.