Is that smartphone making students more or less connected with friends and family? Answer: it depends

This study is a bit of fun as it looks at how our smartphones makes us feel connected or disconnected.

Oh, wait, the study was conducted with a specific age group, so it’s rather about how connected their smartphones make students feels.

It’s a pretty straightforward study with less simple results, as gender seems to have an influence:

 

  • Male’s calling, texting and total cell phone use was not related to attachment.
  • Male’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.
  • Female’s calling was positively related to parent attachment.
  • Female’s texting was positively related to peer attachment.
  • Female’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.

 

So the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

But sadly enough, the researchers didn’t compare this with non-smartphone usage…

And this insight is also a bit problematic:

“the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students”

This is a correlation, and we can explain a causal relationship in both directions…

From the press release:

In this digital age, with phones at our finger tips, you would think that access to constant communication would make us feel closer to one another. But a new study by researchers at Kent State University shows that may not be the case. In fact, cell phone use might actually lead to feeling less socially connected, depending on your gender or cell phone habits.

Three researchers, Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Jian Li, Ph.D., from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services surveyed 493 students, ranging in age from 18-29, to see whether cell phone use, including texting and talking, was associated with feeling socially connected to their parents and peers. The results show a significant difference between men and women.

Female students reported spending an average of 365 minutes per day using their cell phones, sending and receiving an average of 265 texts per day, and making and receiving six calls per day.

Male students reported spending less time on their phone (287 minutes), sending and receiving fewer texts (190), and making and receiving the same amount of calls as the female students.

For the women, the study found that talking on the phone was associated with feeling emotionally close with their parents. However, when it came to relationships with friends, texting was associated with feeling emotionally close.

For the men, the opposite holds true – daily calling and texting were not related in any way to feelings of emotional closeness with either parents or with peers.

Researchers also looked at problematic use, which is a recurrent craving to use a cell phone during inappropriate times – such as driving a car, or at night when you should be sleeping. For both the men and women, the study found that problematic cell phone use was negatively related to feelings of emotional closeness with parents and peers.

“In other words, the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students,” Lepp said.

According to Lepp, the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

As for problematic use, Lepp says given the cell phone’s many other functions, communicating with one another may no longer be the phone’s central purpose, which could be replacing more meaningful forms of relationship building, such as face-to-face communications for both genders.

Abstract of the study:

College students spend hours each day using their cell phones. A common motivation for this behavior is the maintenance of social relations. Yet depending on cell phone use behavior, cell phone use could potentially strengthen or weaken social relations. We investigated this possibility with a survey (N = 493) assessing students’ perceptions of important social relations (i.e., Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment) and various cell phone use behaviors. The relationship between cell phone use and Parent Attachment was modeled with three regression equations, one for each Parent Attachment subscale (i.e., communication, trust, alienation). These subscales were the criterion variables. Each regression equation contained the same predictor variables: total daily cell phone use, calling, texting, and problematic use. Anxiety and self-esteem were control variables. The relationship between cell phone use and Peer Attachment was modeled similarly. Regression equations were estimated simultaneously using the Seemingly Unrelated Regression technique. For males: calling, texting and total daily use were not related to parent or peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. For females: calling was positively related to parental attachment and texting to peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. Implications are discussed.

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