iPhone separation anxiety is really a thing, researchers say

University of Missouri researchers find iPhone users perform worse on tasks when apart from devices

iPhone mini

Some claim clutching your iPhone at all times can be a distraction, but new research shows that being without your precious smartphone can also make you lose focus.

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University of Missouri researchers have found that cell phone separation can have negative physical and mental effects on iPhone users. The effects are so significant that researchers suggest iPhone users keep their device with them when doing tasks such as sitting in meetings or taking tests that require concentration. 

“Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks,” said Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate at the MU School of Journalism and lead author of the study, “The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology.” “Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”

Clayton, along with Glenn Leshner, former professor at MU, now at the University of Oklahoma and Anthony Almond, doctoral student at Indiana University-Bloomington, studied how iPhone users performed at word search puzzles when with or without their iPhones, and found that performance decreased when users were without their phones, while heart rates and blood pressure rose. The researchers even messed with participants by making them separate from their iPhones but then calling those phones so that the owners were within earshot.

This is all not to say that you should never part with your smartphone. Baylor University researchers last summer shared findings from an online survey that women college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones, and men almost 8 hours. 

“That’s astounding,” said researcher James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, in a statement. “As cellphone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

Like researchers at the University of Missouri, Baylor researchers saw evidence that smartphone owners can become agitated when separated from their device.

The study noted that cellphone use can be “both freeing and enslaving at the same time.”

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