Smartphones have revolutionized virtually every aspect of day-to-day life.
Their convenience is certainly undeniable, but the fact remains that we don’t know the full extent of how these devices influence human nature. Point blank, smartphones simply haven’t existed long enough to draw those conclusions.
What are the behavioral implications of using a smartphone every day for 30 years? It’s impossible to say right now, but a noteworthy new study has already uncovered a connection between smartphone use and increased impulsivity.
Researchers at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany report that people who spend lots of time on their phones are becoming more impulsive. This is especially true for people who frequently check social media apps or use their phones to play online games.
So what exactly do they mean by impulsivity? Heavy smartphone users are more likely to pursue instant gratification, even if the reward is smaller.
These individuals prioritize smaller, faster rewards over larger rewards that may take longer to reach. Speed is the name of the game when it comes to modern technology, and we’re all being conditioned to lose our patience almost instantly.
It’s often said patience is a virtue, and if these findings are indicative of the future, patience will be an exceedingly rare quality among future generations.
“Our findings provide further evidence that smartphone use and impulsive decision-making go hand in hand and that engagement with this device needs to be critically examined by researchers to guide prudent behavior,” the study reads.
This isn’t the first time that smartphones have been linked to less-than-ideal outcomes. Earlier studies have connected extreme smartphone use with a higher risk of alcohol dependence, drug abuse, and gambling problems. That being said, this research separates itself from such earlier projects by not relying solely on participants’ self-assessments.
For this study, a group of 101 subjects agreed to have their smartphone use tracked by researchers for 7-10 days. Additionally, each person filled out a series of surveys gauging their self-control and reward-seeking habits.
Participants who spent the most time on their phones each day were much more likely to go for small, rapid rewards over better but delayed rewards. Meanwhile, subjects who displayed a high level of self-control spent the least amount of time on their phones. However, level of consideration for the future didn’t appear to influence screen time habits.
It’s important to note, though, that both self-control and concern for the future did not affect the direct relationship between smartphone use and impulsivity. So, a person with strong self-control who uses their phone for an hour and a half per day would still display greater impulsivity than another individual with similarly robust self-control who uses their phone for a mere half-hour each day.
Considering how rapidly technology continues to advance, it’s almost mind-boggling to ponder just how impatient future generations will be if this trend continues.
It’s a piece of advice repeated time and time again nowadays, but that doesn’t make it any less true: try to put a limit on your daily smartphone use. These devices are supposed to enrich our lives, and in moderation they do, but as more time goes on it has become undeniably clear that there are drawbacks involved in their use as well.
The full study can be found here, published in PLOS ONE.