Smartphone use can be obsessive, if not addictive. Now, smartphones are damaging romantic relationships and leading to higher levels of depression, according to research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

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Smartphone distraction can lead to relationship problems and depression, according to the new study.

Prof. James A. Roberts and Meredith David, PhD, from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business surveyed a total of 453 adults in the US to find out what effect the use of mobile phones has in a relationship.

The research focuses on “phubbing,” or “partner phone snubbing,” the term they give to when “people use or are distracted by their cellphones while in the company of their relationship partners.”

Results from the first study, involving 308 adults, led to the development of a “Partner Phubbing Scale,” a nine-item scale of common smartphone activities that respondents identified as snubbing behaviors.

The resulting scale includes statements such as:

  • My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together
  • My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me
  • My partner glances at his/her cellphone when talking to me
  • If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cellphone.

The study claims that the development of the scale is significant because it demonstrates that “phubbing is conceptually and empirically different from attitude toward cellphones, partner’s cellphone involvement, cellphone conflict and cellphone addiction.”

For the second survey, 145 adults were asked to respond to the nine-item scale that had been developed. This measured the degree of “phubbing” among romantic couples.

In addition, the second survey measured degrees of cellphone conflict, relationship satisfaction, life satisfaction, depression and interpersonal attachment style. Interpersonal attachment style contrasted “anxious” with “secure” in terms of how people felt in their relationships.

The survey showed that:

  • 46.3% of the respondents had been phubbed by their partner
  • 22.6% said this phubbing caused conflict in their relationships
  • 36.6% felt depressed at least some of the time.

Overall, only 32% of respondents stated that they were very satisfied with their relationship.

Prof. David states that people tend to assume that momentary distractions with a cellphone are insignificant during everyday interaction. However, the study found that the more often a couple’s time together is spent with one of them attending to the phone, the less satisfied the other partner will be in the relationship.

Prof. Roberts says:

What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction. These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression.”

The researchers suggest that individuals should be aware of the interruptions caused by their cellphones as they may be harmful to their relationship, such as causing feelings of depression and reduced well-being in the significant other.

In the study, people who were less secure in their relationships, having an “anxious attachment style,” were more upset than those with more secure attachment styles.

The findings illustrate how the use of smartphones can impact not only satisfaction with romantic relationships but also personal well-being, especially as mobile phones play an ever greater role in relationships.

Prof. Roberts expresses surprise that something as small as cellphone can undermine relationships and personal happiness to this extent. “When you think about the results, they are astounding,” he concludes. “Something as common as cellphone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness – our relationships with our romantic partners.”

Medical News Todaycellphone use can be addictive