Smartphones Really Are Habit-Forming: Study

You may be 'systematically distracted' from more important things, researcher says

SATURDAY, July 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new study seems to confirm the widely held belief that many smartphone users obsessively check their devices for e-mails, social media and news.

Researchers analyzed the habits of smartphone users in the United States and Finland, and found that they checked their devices throughout their waking hours. A typical check lasts less than 30 seconds and involves opening the screen lock and accessing a single application.

The study also found that most smartphone use consists solely of checking and that checking does not occur randomly, but is triggered by certain contexts such as reading e-mail when commuting or tracking news while bored.

Smartphone users didn't regard repetitive and obsessive use of their devices as an addiction, but did describe it in terms of overuse and as an annoyance, the researchers said.

"What concerns us here is that if your habitual response to, say, boredom, is that you pick up the phone to find interesting stimuli, you will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around you," Antti Oulasvirta, of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, said in an Aalto University news release.

Habits are automatically triggered behaviors that compromise the more conscious control certain situations require, Oulasvirta said. "Studies are already starting to associate smartphone use to dire consequences like driving accidents and poor work-life balance. Unfortunately, as decades of work in psychology shows, habits are not easy to change," she added.

The study was recently published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing.

The authors said the habit-forming nature of the devices adds to their pervasiveness.

More information

Head to the U.S. Department of Transportation to learn about the hazards of texting while driving.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Aalto University, news release, July 25, 2011

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