Heavy use of mobile phones is linked with poor impulse control and impatience, says a new study – you can now understand that one friend of yours who is constantly into his phone. According to the findings, individuals who are impulsive and impatient will also be those who will constantly be checking their technological devices. The paper documenting these findings, entitled “Mobile technology habits – patterns of association among device usage, intertemporal preference, impulse control, and reward sensitivity”, is published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
We might all be addicted to our mobile phones in one way or another. Some, though, are more attached to their devices than others. The new study provides further insight into the link between the ‘phenomenon’ of constantly checking one’s phone and specific mental processes as well as characteristics that differentiate one individual from another as to the use of technological devices.
You must surely have that one friend who is super-addicted to his phone, to a much greater extent than others. What does this indicate, if anything at all? For instance, did you ever notice that this friend in particular might be relatively very impatient, cannot control his impulses, and wants what he wants now and right now? Okay, maybe this is exaggeration, but psychologists Henry Wilmer and Jason Chein determined to find out whether there was a ring of truth in this, specially in the common perception that this habit is accompanied by this type of characteristics.
Wilmer and Chein gathered their data from 91 students who were asked to fill questionnaires to provide information about the amount of time they spent on their phones, including for how long they would use it, and how much they would check it, and check it yet again, and over and over. Of the specific aims of the pair of researchers included whether those reporting heavy mobile phone use displayed individual differences in controlling their impulses or in their responses to rewards, and whether they had varying tendencies when it comes to delaying gratification from others; the latter aspect of the study was to determine the tendency of the participants to delay gratification for a larger reward given at a later time. Simply put, the researchers wanted to understand whether heavy mobile phone use was the result of the desire for a rewarding experience or of characteristics like impulsivity and impatience.
To test for these traits, the students were to make a choice (hypothetically) between a smaller amount of money obtained immediately or a larger sum to be obtained at a later time — this was to test their intertemporal preference. Also, they had to perform certain tasks to evaluate their impulse control ability. Their tendencies to seek rewarding stimuli were also tested. Furthermore, the students were made to take cognitive tests.
Overall, the findings demonstrate the “individual difference factors” pertaining to the use of technological devices. The results show that those who were into the habit of always checking and using their mobile phones all day long were less prone to delaying gratification. This implies that frequent use of mobile devices might be associated with characteristics like impatience and impulsivity, points out Chein. Wilmer explains that the heavy phone use appears to be driven mainly by uncontrolled impulses as opposed to the desire of seeking rewards. He also adds that their results indicate the increased use of such devices is linked with poor impulse control, and the propensity to underestimate the value of delayed rewards.
In the end, the matter concerning this behaviour (constantly checking one’s phone to the point of ‘addiction’) will be more about whether one is able to leave the device than about intending to obtain some reward from it.