The study, published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, found a typical checking lasts less than 30 seconds and involves opening the screen lock and accessing a single application.
Antti Oulasvirta of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology says the researchers were surprised to find users engaging in checking behaviors throughout the waking hours and a sizable proportion of smartphone use consists solely of checkings.
The checkings do not occur randomly; they are associated with a small set of contexts that trigger them, such as reading e-mail when commuting or checking news while bored, but despite its prevalence, users did not regard checking behavior as an addiction, instead describing it in terms of overuse or an annoyance, the study says.
The researchers are concerned that if people's habitual response to, say, boredom, is picking up the phone to find interesting stimuli, people will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around them, Oulasvirta says.
"Habits are automatically triggered behaviors and compromise the more conscious control that some situations require and studies are already starting to associate smartphone use to dire consequences like driving accidents and poor work-life balance," Oulasvirta says. "Unfortunately, as decades of work in psychology shows, habits are not easy to change."