Compulsive Cell Phone Use Mirrors Other Addictions


Impulse control has long been linked to addictions and other unwanted behaviors. “I just couldn’t resist” is the common refrain.

Now, researchers at Baylor University have added cell phones to the list of items to be wary of.

Instant Gratification and Social Status

In a report in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, researchers found that over-use of cell phones is similar to other “consumption pathologies,” like compulsive credit card use or “shop-a-holic” behavior. They link this to not only the satisfaction of immediate gratification, but also a cultural drive – like over-consumption, a cell phone has a status associated with it.

Toxic Text Messaging

In the past, text messaging has been spotlighted in the news as a behavior that can reach toxic levels. According to the report:

“Previous studies have shown that young adults send an average of 109.5 text messages a day or approximately 3,200 texts each month. They receive an additional 113 text messages and check their cell 60 times in a typical day and on average, college students spend approximately seven hours daily interacting with information and communication technology.”

But the researchers also found that cell phone use for quick conversations had all the same incentives and rewards – the problem wasn’t confined to just texts.

Cell Phones as Status Symbols

The physical phone also mattered to those trapped in overuse. The type of phone and conspicuous usage had become a status symbol, something to display and to be seen using. How much of this was a response to clever marketing wasn’t studied, but for those who had trouble controlling their cell phone impulses, having the latest brand mattered a great deal and was perceived as generating higher satisfaction.

This was particularly true for men – the more expensive the phone, the better. Men were much more likely to show off their phones to others by demonstrating functionality and more likely to “casually” display a phone by, for example, setting it on a table or the counter at a bar.

The authors are continuing to study so-called “technological addictions” in order to tease out the relationship between impulse control and status-seeking behaviors.


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