If you ever suspect you may be a tad overly attached to your phone, you will be interested in this new study out of South Korea. Researchers found that you are more likely to experience discomfort or anxiety when separated from your phone if you see the device as an extension of yourself.
The notion of the “extended self” is a psychological concept that helps explain why some people form such strong attachments to their stuff and to things: When we create cherished memories with objects, or when objects help us retain memories we value, we consider those things to be a part of us. It’s easy to see why this might happen with our phones, because we use them so often to communicate with loved ones, or to take pictures and record videos of special moments.
In order to measure this dynamic, the researchers created an online questionnaire asking respondents to assess their positive memories, how anxious they get when separated from their phone, the level of self-extension they felt toward their phone, and how often they check their phone and make sure the device is close by. The survey also included an open-ended question that asked respondents to write at least 100 words describing what their phones meant to them.
After analyzing the responses from 301 participants, the researchers discovered that as phones were increasingly tied to personal memories, the more users saw their phones as part of themselves. Thus, when separated, they would experience elevated feelings of distress compared to those who showed a weaker tendency to incorporate their phones into their sense of self. The results also found that, among those who had a sense of self that incorporated their phones, the word “hurt” in context of neck and wrist pain showed up more often in the free-write response of the questionnaire. While the researchers weren’t sure why this was, they appeared to indicate excessive use as the probable cause. Additionally, users in this group were more likely to be distracted by their phones when trying to work or study.
An extended self isn’t the only possible cause for these issues. According to a study conducted by scientists in Hungary, anxiety due to being separated from one’s phone arises because a phone helps people keep in touch with the individuals to which they feel closest.
But the specific cause is ultimately beside the point. Whether it’s due to a phone’s ability to keep in touch with others, or someone incorporating their phone into their sense of self, the reason why some have problems being away from their phones runs much deeper than it may seem.