Why you use Your Smartphone too Much

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    My social life has suffered because of using my smartphone

  • I find it difficult to control my smartphone use
  • When I am not using my smartphone I feel agitated
  • Using my smartphone sometimes interferes with other activities

How much do the above statements apply to you?  Do you think you use your smartphone too much?  If so what might motivate this?  The number of functions available on smartphones means that they are used extensively.  Furthermore, features such as games or the ability to keep in contact with others provides a degree of pleasure or satisfaction to users.  However, this extensive range of functions and activities has led to the possibility of smartphone addiction.

Chongyang Chen and colleagues carried out a study to look at what motivates smartphone addiction (Chen, Zhang, Gong, Zhao, Lee & Liang, 2017).  For the purpose of their study smartphone addiction was defined as “maladaptive dependency on the usage and the obsessive compulsive use of smartphone devices”. Users addicted to smartphones might experience the following. 

  • Their smartphone use might get in the way of other important daily events such as work.
  • They find that they cannot reduce their amount of smartphone use voluntarily.
  • Their smartphones become the most prominent features in their lives. 
  • They experience negative emotions in the event of being unable to use their smartphones.

Two research questions were addressed in this study.  Firstly and quite simply what motivates smartphone addiction.  Secondly, given that there are gender differences in other technology related behaviours such as Facebook use (Sheldon, 2008), whether there are differences between males and females in what motivates smartphone addiction.

The researchers collected responses from 384 participants mostly between the ages of 18 and 30, using an online survey.  They used five items to measure degrees of smartphone addiction (for example, ‘I find it difficult to control my smartphone use’, ‘When I am not using my smartphone I feel agitated’).  They used a further 15 items to measure five motivators for smartphone addiction, which were:

  • Perceived enjoyment – ‘Using my smartphone is enjoyable’
  • Social relationship – ‘The reason I use my smartphone is to socialise with others’
  • Mood regulation – ‘I have used my smartphone to forget about my worries’
  • Pastime – ‘The reason I use my smartphone is to avoid boredom’
  • Conformity‘The reason I use my smartphone is to be liked by my friends’

What are the motives for smartphone addiction?

The researchers found a relationship between the motivators enjoyment, mood regulation, pastime and conformity, to smartphone addiction, meaning that if people were motivated to use their smartphones for these purposes they would be more likely to develop smartphone addiction.  Overall however they found that the mood regulation motive (using a smartphone when upset, or to forget about problems) had the strongest relationship to smartphone addiction.  However, rather surprisingly maybe they found that the social relationship motive was not related to smartphone addiction, meaning that using a smartphone to socialise or to check on what other people were doing, did not influence smartphone addiction. 

Gender differences

The researchers also observed that the motives for using smartphones differed between genders in the following way.  The effects of perceived enjoyment and pastime were more strongly related to smartphone addiction for females, whereas conformity was found to be more closely related to smartphone addiction for males.  In other words, females placed more emphasis on intrinsic motives, whereas males focused more on extrinsic motives.

The findings of this study also seem to suggest that much of the motivation for smartphone addiction to be related to factors such as mood regulation or conformity.  These motives may be defined as negative reinforcements (where a behaviour that is increased when a negative outcome stops).  These seem to outweigh the social relationship motives, which may be defined as positive reinforcements (where a behaviour increases following the presentation of a positive outcome).  Cheung, Lee and Lee (2013) found the same pattern of motivation to be evident in compulsive Facebook use.  This is in contrast to the motivation behind addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, where positive reinforcement is the main motivation.  For example, Copeland and Carney (2003) found that mood enhancement and relaxation (positive reinforcements) were the important motivators for smoking

Overall, the results of this study indicate that the motivation for smartphone addiction to be complex and that gender differences in the motivations for additive behaviour are similar to other types of technology addiction.  Finally, the findings perhaps go some way to understanding why it may be difficult to limit our smartphone use.   

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