Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cellphones and Etiquette

An interesting new study says that cellphones make us more selfish.

Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business found that after a short period of cell phone use, people were less likely to partake in “prosocial” behavior — actions that are intended to help another person or society — compared with a control group. For example, after using a cell phone, study participants were more likely to turn down volunteer opportunities and were less persistent in completing word problems, even though they knew their answers would provide money for charity.

The same drop in prosocial tendencies occurred even when participants were simply asked draw a picture of their cell phones and think about using them.

The study involved college men and women in their 20s, but the researchers think the findings would apply to any group.

So why would an innocuous thing like making a cell phone call make a person less giving? The researchers think it has to do with feelings of social connectedness. All humans have a fundamental need to connect with others — but once that need is met, say by using a cell phone, it naturally reduces our inclination to feel empathy or engage in helping behavior toward others. “The cell phone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong,” said study author and marketing professor Rosellina Ferraro in a statement.

This is very fascinating. I wonder how to combat it. I profess to being as guilty as anyone of being addicted to my smartphone even when I'm in social situations, though I do make some effort to not be constantly checking it every time it vibrates. I think the key is going to have to be peer pressure. Friends and family need to make pacts to have space away from phones and rigorously enforce it. It takes time for us to adapt to any new thing and smartphones really are still quite new. It's no wonder that we are still learning how to make them best fit in our lives.

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