Cell phone addiction

It is a stereotype of the current college generation that they are addicted to their cell phones. A couple of professors at Baylor University decided to ask students enrolled in their class to fill out an online survey about the amount of their cell-phone use in 24 different categories to see the degree of cell phone addiction and any gender differences, where an addiction was defined as “the repeated use of a substance despite the negative consequences suffered by the addicted individual”.

While addictions are more commonly associated with chemical dependence manifested by addiction to substances, one can also have behavioral addictions.

Griffiths (1999, 2000) sees technological addictions as a subset of behavioral addiction and defines them as “non-chemical (behavioral) addictions that involve human- machine interaction” (Griffiths, 2000, p. 211). As alluded to above, cell-phone addiction appears to be the latest technological addiction to emerge. As the cost of cell-phone use drops and the functionality of these devices expands, cell-phones have ensconced themselves into the everyday lives of consumers around the globe. Behavioral addictions, according to Griffiths (1995, 2000), feature what many consider to be the core components of addiction, namely: salience, euphoria (mood modification), tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse.

The authors did a survey of the research literature and report that in general, women and men use the phone differently (citations omitted).

[M]en see a more instrumental use for cellphones whereas women utilize the cell-phone as a social tool… female college students sent more texts and talked longer on their cell-phones that their male counterparts.

Females tend to see technologies like cell-phones and Internet as tools of communication – as a means to maintaining and nurturing relationships. Men, on the other hand, tend to see the Internet and related technologies as sources of entertainment and/or as sources of information. In a study looking at Facebook addiction, Kuss&Griffiths (2011) conclude that females, unlike their male counterparts, tend to use social networking sites largely to communicate with members of their peer group.

The other relevant (to the present study) and fairly consistent finding regarding gender and cell-phone use is the level of attachment to one’s cell-phone. Several studies have found that females exhibit a higher level of attachment to and dependence on their cell-phones compared with men.

The two research questions they were investigating were: (1) Of the various activities performed on a cellphone, which if any are associated significantly with cellphone addiction? (2) Are there differences across male and female cell-phone users in terms of cell-phone activities used and the relationship between cell-phone activities and cellphone addiction? They had 164 students respond and the main results are given in Table 1 of the paper.

The most time consuming activity was texting (about 94.6 minutes), followed by emails (48.5) and Facebook (38.6). What really surprised me was the total time spent per day on the phone, which worked out to about 10 hours for women and almost 8 for men. That’s a lot. When you add in the time for sleeping, eating and other required daily functions, that seems to leave students very little time for studying or work.

Self-reporting can be an unreliable measure and maybe students are over-estimating how much time they spend on phones. (The authors reported that they eliminated those whose totals came to over 24 hours!) They were just asked to fill in a questionnaire that took about 20 minutes. They were not required to keep a journal or anything and the method used to estimate time (sliding a bar) may be conducive to overestimation. The fact that they spent about 25 minutes using their phones as a clock suggests some overestimation because who looks at a clock so much? But even allowing for some exaggeration, the total still seems like a lot.

To get some perspective, I compared it with my computer use.. I estimate that about 75% of my work day is on the computer and about a similar portion of my leisure time. So I likely spend about 10 hours per days on the computer. But most of that is spent on reading and writing or watching videos and not communicating with anyone.

So what are the uses that suggest addiction?

For males, 12 activities significantly affected cell-phone addiction. Activities that positively affect cell-phone addiction include: time spent sending emails, reading books and the Bible as well as visiting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In addition, the number of calls made and the number of texts sent also positively affect cell-phone addiction. In contrast, time spent placing calls, using the cell-phone as a clock, visiting Amazon and “Other” applications had a negative effect on cell-phone addiction.

Finally, results for females identified nine activities that significantly affect cell-phone addiction.

Three activities that significantly affect cell-phone addiction: Pinterest, Instagram, iPod, Amazon and the number of calls made all exerted a positive effect on cell-phone addiction. In contrast, using the Bible application, Twitter, Pandora/Spotify and an iPod application inversely affects females’ cell-phone addiction.

The stuff about the Bible was puzzling. For men, the amount of time reading the Bible on their cell phones was a predictor for cell phone addiction but not so for women.

While the paper says that “Behavioral addictions, according to Griffiths (1995, 2000), feature what many consider to be the core components of addiction, namely: salience, euphoria (mood modification), tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse”, the paper did not address whether people suffered from withdrawal symptoms if they did not have access to their cell phones for an extended period and, if so, what forms they took.


  1. Katydid says

    Anecdata time; I’ve worked for the same organization since the early 1990s. When I started, each office had a single phone, located centrally in the room. Usually the secretary would answer it if it rang, but when the organization did away with secretaries in the late 1990s, everyone got their own phone on their desk, and a group number that rang on everyone’s desk. For example, if 555-1111 rang, it was your personal number, but if 555-2222 rang, it was the group number and anyone with that number on their phone could answer it. Cell phones are not allowed in the building (some people keep them in their cars, or don’t bring them to work at all). Starting in the mid-2000s, the organization began getting college interns in large numbers. Every fall it’s the same thing; they start, and immediately become hysterical that they can’t update their Facebook accounts or post their location on 4-Square, or play Angry Birds during meetings, or send out hundreds of texts instead of actually doing what they’re getting paid very well to do–their jobs. Why, to hear them talk, this is against the Geneva Convention! How will people reach them?!?! Having a personal (non-texting) phone line dedicated solely to them plus a group line to their team simply isn’t acceptable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *