CSUF expert has the lowdown on recognizing, addressing smartphone addiction

  • Withdrawal – Do you experience negative emotions when you don’t use or are unable to use your smartphone?
  • Relapse and reinstatement – Are you unable to reduce the usage of your smartphone voluntarily?
  • Behavioral salience and dependency – Does your smartphone use dominate other tasks?

According to a 2013 Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers annual Internet trend report, the average phone user checks his or her phone 150 times a day for a number of reasons, including texting, making calls, sending and reading emails, listening to music, playing games, browsing the Internet, taking photos and checking the time.

If you are disconnected from your smartphone for a couple of hours, there’s a chance you will miss a call, text message, email, Facebook notification, Tweet or Instagram tag. And with that, comes an overwhelming sense of anxiety for some people.

Smartphone addiction stems from the fear of missing out, said Amr Soror, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of information systems and decision sciences.

He relates the urge to continuously check our smartphones for updates and notifications with using a casino slot machine.

Users aren’t able to predict what will happen, but there is a possibility that something rewarding – for example, a funny video shared on Facebook, a text message from a friend or good news in an email – could happen any time they tune in to their smartphone.

“Consequently, users will keep on checking their phones for their next reward, which in some cases results in an obsessive-compulsive pattern of smartphone use,” said Soror, who has studied smartphone addiction for six years.

“People are afraid they might miss out on something,” he said.

Soror and a group of researchers have found that those too tied to their smartphones risk serious issues like dependency and addiction.

“Our minds are wired to become dependent on what makes us happy,” Soror said.

After all, human behavior is habitual in nature, he said.

You hear a ring, ping or vibration come from your phone and your hand instantly reaches for the device, not really thinking about what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

“Our brains are wired in such a way to drive us to repeat the engagement in rewarding behaviors until action becomes automatic,” Soror said.

Addiction to technology is a gray area – it’s not as simple as either being addicted or not addicted.

“Every one of us has some level of addiction,” Soror said. “It should be thought of as a continuum ranging from very low to very high.”

“Some people spend more time on their cellphones, but they are not addicted,” he said.

If you are curious about whether your smartphone habits are becoming problematic, ask your peers whether they believe you have a problem, Soror said.

Also, monitor how much time you’re on your phone from the moment you wake up in the morning until the moment you drift off to sleep at night.

The amount of time people spend with their noses buried in their mobile devices tends to surprise them, he said.

“If users notice an increase in their smartphone use in an inappropriate situation, they should remind themselves that this behavior has negative consequences and encourage themselves to refrain from repeating this behavior,” he said.

With cellphone-related car accidents continuing, Soror believes making people aware of their problematic behavior could save lives.

Knowing when to put away their phones could aid individuals in living healthier lives, said Soror, adding that sleep deprivation and relationship problems are also common signs of smartphone addiction.

“Awareness is the first step,” he said. “The way to correct any behavior is to be aware of it.”

Modifying the behavior is the next step.

“Take some breaks. Disengage from technology,” he said. “Do something that will replenish your inner peace.”

Some tips include going for a short walk or meditating.

Severe cases of smartphone addiction may require professional consultation.

The underlying issue with smartphone addiction is not solely about the minutes spent on the device, but about the dependency one feels toward it, Soror said.

“If you feel that your only source of enjoyment is dependent on using your cellphone, then you are in trouble,” he said. “There are some people who can’t deal with being offline or their phone being dead for half an hour.”

Through his research, Soror wishes to assess what drives individuals to become addicted to technology and what types of interventions are effective for individuals with addictions to technology.

Soror believes more research on smartphone addiction is needed from experts in the fields of information systems, psychology, sociology and neurology.

In addition to smartphone addiction, Soror also studies addictions to other forms of technology, such as video games and social media.

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