Do cell phones make us less prosocial?

February 27, 2012

In an intriguing working paper from University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, it was found that cell phone use may be associated with becoming less socially minded and less likely to engage in prosocial behavior.

The study, which involved separate sets of college students in their early twenties, found that after a short period of cell phone use, the participants were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity compared to the control group. The Atlantic reports that the cell phone users were also less motivated to solve word problems, even though they knew coming up with the answer would translate into a monetary donation to charity.

To explain this phenomenon, study author and marketing professor Rosellina Ferraro says: “The cell phone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” Meaning once the need to connect with others is met; our desire to feel empathy or engage is behavior that would help others is reduced.

These findings appear in the paper, The Effect of Mobile Phone Use on Prosocial Behavior.


I want to be alone (with my cellphone)

August 17, 2011

These days, a cell phone is much more than a method of communication. In fact, a new study shows it’s being used as just the opposite. According to a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 13 percent of mobile owners pretend to be on their cell phone in order to avoid social interaction.

Out of the 2,277 people surveyed, younger cell phone users were most likely to have used this avoidance method – 30 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 29. In comparison, only 2 percent of those 65 and older have ignored someone by pretending to use their phone.

The survey also revealed people use their phones for:

  • Information retrieval: 51% had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away
  • Emergencies: 40% of cell owners said their phone helped them in some kind of emergency situation
  • Entertainment: 42% said they used the cell phones to stave off boredom
  • Text messaging and picture taking: 73% of cell phone owners used their devices for each purpose
  • Multimedia: 54% of respondents used their phone to send photos or videos to others, while 44% used their phone to access the Internet

One percentage that is (pleasantly) surprising – 29 percent of cell phone owners reported turning off their phone for a period simply to take a break.


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