Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that problematic smartphone use is linked with low self-esteem as well as negative cognitive outcomes.
The majority of people who live in industrialized countries have smartphones. The fear of being without one’s smartphones is known as “nomophobia” and has become a social problem. Research shows that people who have smartphone addiction tend to report more loneliness and experience self-regulation deficits.
Furthermore, people who have smartphone addictions are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when their smartphone use is restricted. Researchers Rosa Fabio, Alessia Stracuzzi, and Riccardo Lo Faro were interested in investigating the relationship between smartphone usage and behavioral and cognitive self-control deficits.
Fabio and colleagues recruited 111 participants, ranging from ages 18 to 65. Twenty-eight percent of the participants were college students and 78% were workers. Each participant’s phone data was retrieved via the “SocialStatsApp” which provides information about the use of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
The Smartphone Addiction Scale – Short Version (SAS-SV) was used to determine each participant’s risk of smartphone addiction and severity. Participants also responded to items on the short version of the Psychological General Well-Being Index, the Fear of Missing Out Scale, and the Procrastination Scale.
This study consisted of three phases: a pre-test phase, an experimental phase, and a post-test phase. For the pre-test phase, Fabio and colleagues assessed each participant’s baseline use of their smartphone via the SocialStatsApp. For the experimental phase, participants were instructed to limit their smartphone use to one hour a day for three consecutive days. For the post-test phase, participants were allowed to use their smartphones as they pleased for seven consecutive days.
On the day before and after the experimental phase, participants were assessed on working memory, attention, executive control, auditory reaction time, visual reaction time, the ability to inhibit motor response, and behavioral inhibition.
Results show that participants who had higher levels of smartphone addiction had a higher percentage of noncompliance. Participants with higher levels of smartphone addiction spent more time using their phones in all three phases, even when they were instructed to limit their smartphone use during the experimental phase.
Results also show that participants with higher levels of smartphone addiction tended to exhibit worse working memory, visual reaction time, auditory reaction time, ability to inhibit motor response, and behavioral inhibition compared to participants with lower levels of smartphone addiction.
There were no significant differences in performances on these measures for each participant between the pre-test phase and the post-test phase. Lastly, participants with higher levels of smartphone addiction scored lower on the Psychological General Well-Being Index, and higher on the Fear of Missing Out Scale and the Procrastination Scale.
Fabio and colleagues argue that their findings shows that people with high levels of smartphone addiction display less self-control. Poor self-regulation could have negative consequences on people’s daily lives, such as deficiencies in cognitive tasks and slower reaction times. The researchers additionally say that people with lower levels of smartphone addiction have a better perception of their general well-being and quality of life, considering these participants displayed fewer procrastination behaviors and less fear of being excluded.
A limitation of this study is that some of the original participants left the study when they found out they would have to limit their smartphone use to one hour a day for three consecutive days, so data from people with likely very high levels of smartphone addiction is missing. Fabio and colleagues recommend that future research should investigate individuals with high levels of smartphone addiction and their withdrawal effects.
The study was titled: “Problematic Smartphone Use Leads to Behavioral and Cognitive Self-Control Deficits“.