If you can barely put your phone down for a minute, and you get all panicky when your juice runs out, past psychology research might describe you as being somehow addicted, dependent or that you have a new condition “nomophobia“, literally no mobile phone phobia.
But writing this week in Computers in Human Behaviour, a team of researchers from Hungary say this language of extremity or disorder is probably the wrong approach – after all, most people experience nomophobia. Instead, they argue we should view our relationship with our phones in terms of attachment theory. Specifically, they’ve tested the idea that we all have a certain kind of attachment to our phones, but that people who are anxiously attached in their human relationships (that is, people who are afraid of being abandoned) are also likely to show anxious attachment towards their phones.
For their exploratory study, Veronika Konok and her team asked 142 young Hungarian adults (aged 19 to 25) to complete measures of their attachment style towards humans – whether they are anxiously attached, anxiously avoidant, or secure – and their attachment style towards their phones. This last measure included questions about phone checking and phone separation anxiety, and the ways the participants use their phone.
The results provided partial support for the researchers’ predictions. For example, people with an anxious attachment style said they tended to get more stressed than others if they couldn’t reach someone on their phone or couldn’t answer a call. Anxiously attached people also described using their phones more for accessing social networking sites.
However, against the researchers’ predictions, anxiously attached people did not report greater stress when they were separated from their phones. But there’s a simple methodological explanation for this null result – nearly all of the participants, regardless of their attachment style, said they felt bad when they were apart from their phones.
“Some features of [people’s] attachment to the phone are influenced by their interpersonal attachment style,” the researchers concluded. “Specifically, anxiously attached people need more contact through the phone, and perhaps because of this they use the phone more for smart phone functions.” The researchers hope more research in a similar vein will now follow, for example using neuroimaging to see if attachment to mobile phones “co-opts the same neuronal circuits as infant-mother or romantic attachment”.
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