TEAM BUILDING

Science Explains Exactly How Your Phone Is Ruining Your Relationships

A quick glance at your gadget can't have too much impact on your conversations, can it? A new study says otherwise.
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You know it's rude (and, in the right company, might even mean it's your turn to pick up the check), but you just can't help yourself--you just have to take a quick peek at your phone to see if that client wrote you back or if your team has any questions, even though that important prospect or your better half is sitting right there across from you.

We all know it's not the best habit in the world, but it's just a part of modern life, right? That teeny-tiny glance at your gadget isn't really hurting anyone, is it?

Sorry, smartphone addicts--a new study is about to burst your bubble of denial.

It's Intimacy or Your Phone, Not Both

Research led by Virginia Tech's Shalini Misra set up 100 pairs of strangers for 10-minute chats in cafes around Washington, D.C. Half discussed the less-than-momentous matter of fake festive trees, while the other half were asked to discuss the most meaningful event in their lives in the past year. The research team looked on discreetly from a distance to see who checked their device and how often, and then administered a detailed survey about the conversations to all participants.

The results reveal that all those "harmless" little looks at your iPhone are actually impacting your conversations substantially. The British Psychological Society Research Digest reports: "Feelings of 'interconnectedness' (rated by agreement with statements like 'I felt close to my conversation partner') were reduced for pairs in which a mobile device was placed on the table or held by one of them. Similarly, 'empathetic concern' (measured by items like 'To what extent did your conversation partner make an effort to understand your thoughts and feelings about the topic you discussed?') was rated lower by pairs in which a mobile device was brought into view." That was true no matter the topic of conversation.

The bottom line: even just putting your beloved gadget on the table significantly reduces feelings of intimacy and the other party's estimation of your concern for what they're saying. And the closer the bond between the two parties, the more disruptive interacting with your device is (which might explain your frequently miffed spouse). Take out your phone, and the result will be "diminished quality of the 'here and now' interactions with co-present others," the authors conclude.

How to Curb Your Addiction

If previous research on the benefits of mental downtime (even a little bit of--gasp!--boredom) hasn't convinced you to get a handle on your inseparable connection to your devices, then maybe this study will convince you of the need to get your addiction under control. If so, there's lots of advice out there on how to set better boundaries and wean yourself away from the need to be constantly plugged in.

Are you guilty of constant sneaky smartphone checks?

IMAGE: macabrephotographer / Flickr.com
Last updated: Aug 12, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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