Smartphone dependency linked to reduced relationship satisfaction in college students

People who feel psychologically dependent on their smartphone also tend to be less happy with their romantic relationship, according to research published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

“My primary area of interest is children and advertising but a couple of years ago I conducted a study working with some undergraduate students where we looked at smartphone use/dependency and relationship attitudes. We found that dependency was associated with more negative attitudes/beliefs about one’s relationship,” said study author Matthew A. Lapierre, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.

“Since then, I have grown more interested in the subject and am trying to understand just how smartphones affect us and what explains these effects. This study was focused on determining whether the links between smartphone dependency and relationship issues could be explained via loneliness and self-esteem. Moreover, contrary to what others have written, smartphone use (on its own) is not the culprit.”

Lapierre surveyed 125 university students regarding their smartphone use, loneliness, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction and relationship commitment. All the participants had been involved in a romantic relationship for at least 1 month.

He found that participants with higher levels of smartphone dependency tended to have significantly lower relationship satisfaction and increased relationship uncertainty. People with higher levels of smartphone dependency agree with statements such as “People frequently comment on my excessive smartphone use” and “I panic when I cannot use my smartphone.”

Smartphone use by itself, however, was not associated with either relationship outcomes.

Lapierre also found that loneliness explained some of the link. People with greater smartphone dependency were more likely to be lonelier, which in turn was related to lower relationship satisfaction and more relational uncertainty.

“The primary takeaway is that it is psychological dependence (which is not be grouped into a term like ‘addiction’) on smartphones that seems to be more worrisome when looking at relational outcomes than just general use. The study also adds to the growing evidence that smartphone dependency is associated with loneliness,” he told PsyPost.

Like all research, the study has some limitations. The study used a cross-sectional survey, making the direction of cause and effect difficult to assess.

“We really need to understand the temporal ordering of these relationships,” Lapierre explained. “It is one thing to show that these variables are related but we still don’t know which comes first. Do relationship issues lead to smartphone dependency or is it the other way around? The current study was mostly focused on showing that things like loneliness and self-esteem issues do not fully account for the relationship.”

The study was titled: “Smartphones and loneliness in love: Testing links between smartphone engagement, loneliness, and relational health“.