Cell Phones Make Us Socially Oblivious

By Emily Murray

It’s rare that you read a news headline and think “yeah, I completely agree,” but when this one topped many news websites this morning, I bet I wasn’t the only one who could relate. It appears that cell phones make us less connected socially…at least with those who aren’t on the other side of the phone conversation.

While you may be thinking of the many times you are virtually hit by that driver who just can’t stop talking on the phone long enough to be bothered with paying attention at stop lights, there is an even deeper level to this type of oblivion – one that  perhaps is even more disturbing. According to a new study, frequent cell phone use actually affects what’s known as “prosocial behavior.” This type of interaction was defined in a recent article on the study as “behavior intended to benefit other people or society as a while.”  The idea seems strange when you consider the advent of smart phones since traditionally we think of this type of technology as a way to connect even further.

Essentially the study measured the behaviors of a research group (mainly college men and women in their 20’s) of cell phone users. It’s believed that we are driven to help others and have empathy as part of our attempt to connect socially. Now that many of us have a social connection through our phones, we no longer need to reach out in order to have this need to belong met.

Researchers also find that there is a sense of exclusivity shared among cell phone users that further leads their interest  away from interacting with anyone outside of their tight-knit group.

The study also took this idea further by asking participants to simply draw their mobile phones and then to describe all interactions that took place the previous day. After following this simple request, these subjects were less willing to take part in volunteer activities than those who had not done the previous drawing exercise. This surprisingly proves that not just talking on the cell phone but actually THINKING about the phone can be enough to trigger this anti-social behavior. They also performed much worse in finding “others-related” words in a word search puzzle and did not want to complete a puzzle – completion task as eagerly as the control group even when each answer would provide a money donation to a charity.

The more we evolve in technology, it’s idealistic to think that as a society are interactions will remain unchanged. In light of this new information, we might want to take a look at our own social involvement and see if we have noticed any changes in our lives.