It’s an unsettling feeling, one that many us, unfortunately, are familiar with. I’m talking about the moment you realize that somehow, unfathomably, you’ve forgotten your smartphone at home, or that the battery has died mid route.
It’s a weightless, untethered, disorienting feeling. Who are you without your smartphone, really?
According to new research, you’re likely a more anxious, stressed-out, cognitively stunted version of yourself.
That’s the take-away from a recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, which examined the cognitive impact of separating iPhone users from their devices while they solved word puzzles.
The researchers had 40 iPhones users complete two tests. Participants were told that they were testing the reliability of a wireless blood pressure cuff, and were asked to complete a world puzzle in the comforting possession of their iPhones. Next, they were asked to complete a second word puzzle, but this time, their iPhones were taken away, but placed within hearing distance (for the ostensible reason that the devices were causing “Bluetooth interference”). In the middle of the second word puzzle, the researchers called the iPhones; crucially, the participants could hear their phones ringing, but could not answer.
In both cases, researchers monitored participants’ vital signs and found that in the second case – when they were separated from their ringing iPhones – the study’s volunteers not only exhibited, on average, elevated heart rates, higher blood pressure and self-reported feelings of anxiety, but their performances also suffered.
While the researchers focused on participants’ reactions to being separated from their ringing phones, it’s very probable that this separation-anxiety would have persisted even if the devices had remained silent. A recent study conducted by the security app Lookout and research firm Harris Interactive found that 58 percent of U.S. smartphone owners compulsively check their devices every hour, and that many of us are so reluctant to separate from our phones that we sleep with them, and even take them into the bathroom with us.
The researchers conclude that for many of us, our smartphone obsession has morphed from a mere addiction into a dependency so severe that we feel incomplete without them. “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,” Russel Clayton, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
Interestingly, Clayton and his team’s conclusion is not that we should lessen our collective dependency on our smartphones. Instead, the researchers take a more realistic approach, namely: If you are about to engage in an activity that is high-pressure, or requires intense focus, it’s probably wise to bring along your iPhone in order to avoid elevated levels of stress and anxiety.