A recent study from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business finds that even though cell phones are generally thought to connect people with each other, they may make users less socially minded. The findings of various experiments conducted by marketing professors Anastasiya Pocheptsova and Rosellina Ferraro with graduate student, Ajay T. Abraham have been published in their working paper The Effect of Mobile Phone Use on Pro-social Behavior.

The study involved separate sets of male and female college students, who were mostly in their early 20s. Ferraro commented:

“We would expect a similar pattern of effects with people from other age groups. Given the increasing pervasiveness of cell phones, it does have the potential to have broad social implications.”

Their findings revealed that participants were less likely to volunteer for a community service when asked after a short period of using their cell phone, than those in the control-group and were also less persistent in solving word problems, despite knowing their answers would result in a monetary donation to charity.

The cell phone users’ lower interest in others also persisted when asked to simply draw a picture of their cell phones and think about how they used them.

The researchers referred to earlier studies in explaining the key cause of their findings, saying:

“The cell phone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.”

This leads to a lower desire to connect with others or to be empathic towards others. It also decreases pro-social behavior, which means wanting to act in order to benefit another person or society as a whole.

One aspect of the study was a comparison between the cell phone participants with users of other social media, such as Facebook. The researchers observed that participants’ felt more connected to others when using their cell phones than through their Facebook accounts. It indicates that this difference in feeling connected was the underlying trigger of the participants’ change in behavior.

Related investigation involves the authors studying the effects of using other types of technology on pro-social behavior.

Written by Petra Rattue