Phubbing Destroys Relationships

Consider this your annual AllPsych public health announcement about the negative effects of phubbing.

In early 2018, I wrote about the dangers of phubbing – that is, of snubbing people by going on your phone. A year and change later, there’s more research out on the topic. That research gives us new evidence that everything your mother told you about why you shouldn’t ignore people to go on your phone (or everything I told you anyway) is true.

In a recent study, researchers surveyed 568 teens in Malaysia about their phubbing behaviors and also conducted in-depth interviews with six of them.

As it turned out, phubbing was associated with feelings of being less socially connected in a variety of different settings. Teens who were more prone to phubbing reported feeling less socially connected in their families and at their schools. They even reported feeling less connected to themselves.

The one bright spot was when it came to being connected with their friends. In this case, phubbing didn’t help, but it didn’t seem to hurt overall either. Still, being less connected with your family, school and self is a high price to pay for being neither more nor less connected with your friends!

In the in-depth interviews, the researchers also found that phubbing had to do with a sense of belonging. The researchers described the pattern reported by serial phubbers as a “detrimental effect of phone obsession on their sense of belonging.” And if you’re always compelled to see what’s happening on your phone, it makes sense that it would make you feel less engaged with and in tune with the people around you!

This study was published in a journal specializing in addiction partly because it illustrates how compulsive phone use can have real consequences in people’s lives. But even for those whose phone use doesn’t rise to addictive levels, it’s a good reminder that smartphone use can interfere with more meaningful connections and that sometimes we have to make a deliberate decision to put face-to-face relationships first.