People Get Separation Anxiety When Parted From Their Phones

Separating college students from their smartphones can cause anxiety, especially for those who use their phones a lot

Leland Bobbe/Image Source/Corbis

What happens when our phones—our news, entertainment, music, communication, directions and just about everything else—go away?

A whole lot of anxiety. A study recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior looked at the anxiety levels of 163 college students who had to spend one hour without their phone. Half had the phone taken away, and the other half were simply told to put it away.

The students had to take three tests over the course of an hour to measure their anxiety. Those who reported using their phones heavily throughout the day were the most anxious by the time the hour was up, while students who used their phones for the least amount of time (four hours or less) had near-stable anxiety levels. Students whose usage fell somewhere in between experienced more anxiety if the phone was removed from their possession. If they were allowed to keep it, their anxiety was kept in check. 

At Co.Design, Eric Jaffe writes: 

For twenty-somethings who use their devices a lot, the separation anxiety that occurs when they're out of touch is enough of a problem already. Future studies might pair self-reported anxiety with physiological measures of discomfort to get a broader picture of the impact. And, of course, the rise of wearables will take digital attachment to a whole new level. As the barriers to connectivity get lower, expect the anxiety of disconnecting to go up, up, up.

They're pretty low already: Many of us are so dependent on our phones that we even share our beds with them.