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Surprising Science

No Mobile Phone Phobia = ‘Nomophobia’

Some people get anxious when they’re without their smartphones, but others may become phobic. Researchers are working on a way to measure this new, modern malady. 

Do you find yourself becoming irrationally anxious when you’re separated from your phone? Past research has found that when people are parted from their smartphones, productivity goes down. But BPS writes on a sect of people that may be experiencing a modern ailment known as “no mobile phone phobia” or “nomophobia.”

Caglar Yildirim and Ana-Paula Correia headed up the research on the study, which “sought to contribute to the nomophobia research literature by identifying and describing the dimensions of nomophobia and developing a questionnaire to measure nomophobia.” The research was divided into two parts: development and validation.

The researchers began with nine students who were described as being heavily dependent on their cellphones. Yildirim and Correia conducted a semi-structured interview with these students, where four major themes emerged that would become the bedrock of their 20-item questionnaire.

First, the students talked about their anxiety of being unable to communicate. One participant, named Tracy, illustrated this point to researchers saying, “I just blew through my first 300 [minutes] a couple of days ago. I was like, ‘Now how are people going to call me?’ Even that makes me have a feeling of anxiety.” 

There’s also this fear of disconnection from their online communities. During downtime, we have this buffer of our smartphones to save us from the boredom of waiting for things to start. Some participants talked about how they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they didn’t have their smartphones. There’s a comfort to having that constant connection. But past research has found moments of disconnection can be an excellent mindfulness exercise that has been found to boost creativity, though, it may not be as calming an exercise for those with nomophobia.

Inability to access information was the next biggest concern for participants. That nagging feeling of not being able to look up an answer or check the news for some people was unbearable.

Participants also illustrated this irrational fear of being stranded if their smartphone ran out of juice; losing that convenience of having a smartphone was a big pain point. They talked about how they made it their mission to make sure their batteries were charged. One participant said, “If it does die, you lose your peace of mind.”

To test the information researchers gathered from their discussions with smartphone-dependent participants, they converted the fears students’ outlined into a 20-item questionnaire. They recruited 301 students to fill it out. Researchers were happy to report in their paper that the questionnaire “was shown to produce valid and reliable scores; and thus, can be used to assess the severity of nomophobia.”

Research on nomophobia is scarce, according to researchers, which is understandable given the technology relating to this phobia is relatively new. However, it will be interesting to see what psychologists uncover in their research — particularly, what larger fears contribute to this specific anxiety of being without a smartphone.

Read more at BPS.

Fear of being without one’s smartphone, however, is obviously a condition created by modern society. As high-wire artist Philippe Petit explains, purposefully leaving your smartphone to the side of your life may result in sharper focus, even a greater sense of purpose.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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