SATURDAY, Aug. 11, 2018 -- Keeping that smartphone handy while out with friends may backfire: The pull of digital technology is distracting and drains enjoyment out of face-to-face interactions, new research suggests.
A pair of studies focused on cellphone use showed those who keep their phones easily accessible while eating out feel more preoccupied and bored -- and enjoy the dining experience less.
"A lot of people have this intuition that smartphones are having an impact on their interactions. I think it's great we've been able to find this is the case," said one of the study authors, Ryan Dwyer. He's a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
"This is one of the first studies to look at this question, so more research needs to be done," Dwyer added. "But the first step is awareness. Being more mindful might make people more aware that using your phone during dining interactions may be taking away from the experience."
Dwyer and his team conducted two studies. First, they asked more than 300 adults dining at restaurants to either keep their cellphones on the table with ringer or vibration on or place the phones on silent mode in a container on the table during the meal.
The diners completed a questionnaire afterward on their feelings of social connection, enjoyment, distraction and boredom. They also detailed their amount of phone use during the meal.
The second study surveyed 120 participants from the University of Virginia five times a day for one week on what they were doing and how they were feeling in the 15 minutes before completing the survey. It showed participants felt more distracted during face-to-face interactions if they had used their phone during them than during interactions without phone use.
"It seems like the overall findings -- that when people use their phones it's causing them to be distracted and taking them out of the moment, and that's causing some downstream consequences -- makes sense," Dwyer said.
The research was scheduled for presentation Friday at the American Psychological Association annual convention, in San Francisco.
A third study exploring narcissism and social media, also to be presented at the convention, found that those who are more self-centered and narcissistic spend more time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The findings come from analysis of data from four prior studies on more than 1,200 adults and used existing measures assessing traits such as narcissism, empathy and emotional intelligence. Participants were also asked how frequently they check and post on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
People who seemed more empathic used Twitter less frequently than those who were less caring and compassionate toward others. Additionally, those measuring with lower emotional intelligence or with difficulty recognizing their emotions used social media more often than others considered more in touch with their feelings.
"People who are uncomfortable with their own and others' emotions may be more comfortable online," said study author Sara Konrath, of Indiana University.
"We think that they may prefer text-based interactions that allow them more time to process social and emotional information," she said in an APA news release.
Scott Campbell is a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan and wasn't involved in the new research. He said it's difficult to explain the findings of the third study, considering that scientists are "having a hard time figuring out what empathy is and how we can measure it."
Campbell said he thinks the research results "should be handled with an incredible amount of caution.
"There's been a fear that mobile media, which is with us at all times, will replace face-to-face conversation," he added.
However, Campbell said, "I've found that more texting, messaging and calling has a positive association with the time we spend with others face to face. So I say, it's not the quantity of our face-to-face time that's suffering, but we do need to be mindful of the quality."
Research presented at scientific conferences typically hasn't been peer-reviewed or published, so the results are considered preliminary.More information
Common Sense Media offers more about regulating cellphone use by kids.
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