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Published on September 12th, 2012 | by No Artificial

Cell Phone May Hurt Your Interpersonal Relationships

How the presence of mobile phone influences face-to-face conversation quality.

Recent developments in mobile communication technology have enabled billions of people to connect over great distances using theirs cell phones. Today’s multifunctional smart phones have become an essential part of our lives.
According to a March 2012 report by The Huffington Post, about 88 percent of American adults own
a cell phone. We might assume that the common availability of mobile devices boosts interpersonal connections, but the recent research by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex in England has shown that our cell phones can actually hurt our close relationships.

In a study titled “Can you connect with me now?” the scientists performed two separate experiments to see how the presence of a cellular phone affected the dynamic between two people.

The researchers asked pairs of strangers to sit together in private booths where a book had been placed out of their direct line of sight. Beside the book, each booth had one other item. One group of participants could also see a notebook in their peripheral vision, while the other group could see a cell phone out of the corner of their eyes. The strangers were then asked to share and discuss a personal story of an interesting event that had happened to them recently. After they finished the discussion, each of the individuals completed questionnaires about the relationship quality and feelings of closeness they had experienced.

Even in the short conversation — each pair was only together for 10 minutes — the difference between having a cell phone in the background vs not having one was significant. The pairs who were seated in the presence of the cell phone felt less close and reported a lower quality of relationships with their partner than those who were placed in an environment without a mobile phone.

Przybylski and Weinstein then followed up with another experiment in which they asked groups of participants to discuss either a casual or substantial topic, and again found that when a mobile phone was present it “predicted lower relationship quality.”

The study concluded that the presence of mobile phones significantly affected relationship quality, trust and empathy in situations in which the participants discussed personally meaningful topics.

While cell phones can help people to stay in touch, the research suggests they can in fact interfere with human relationships, potentially generating emotional rifts among people who regularly spend time together.

Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

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