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Dr. Stephen Pirog, Seton Hall University – Smartphone Addiction

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Stephen Pirog of Seton Hall University explains the strong bond between many young people and their smartphones.

Stephen Pirog is Associate Professor of Marketing and Chair of the Department of Marketing at Seton Hall University.  His research interests are focused on the economic and social impacts of marketing practice, as well as marketing history. He earned his Ph.D. at Temple University.

About Dr. Pirog

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Dr. Stephen Pirog – Smartphone Addiction

In focus groups, mobile phone users often speak fondly of their phones and even attribute great power to them.  For example, they have revealed a “pacifier effect,” whereby simply having the device at hand makes them feel calm and in control.   In other cases the phone bestows the  user with social status -- something to show off (subtly, of course).  And finally, some participants speak admiringly of their phone’s  design aesthetics as well as its grace in carrying out commands, as if the phone understood its human partner much the way partners in  dance or doubles tennis would. 

This “man-machine” relationship can be empowering to the user when it provides the right kind of feedback, such as an important task well done or a beneficial connection with a family member or dear friend.  However,  a good deal of research suggests that excessive use of these mobile devices has a negative effect on one’s well being, largely because the machine crowds out other,  beneficial relationships that demand different modes of engagement.  

A survey that I recently conducted with James Roberts of Baylor University sheds light on these very effects.  We surveyed a couple hundred college students to gauge their cell phone use as well as use of instant messaging on the computer.  Along with that we collected data to assess key personality traits; in particular, impulsivity, a trait that seeks out the ‘pacifier effect,’ and materialism, a trait linked to both the “status” and “man-machine” effects.  Then we used a structural equation model to distill  the separate effects of impulsivity and materialism on cell phone over-use as well as on the over-use of instant messaging, which provides an interesting point of comparison.  

We expected to find the effects to be positive and statistically significant, and we were not disappointed.  But we were startled to find that materialism had a much larger impact than impulsiveness did, for both types of addictive tendencies.  The impact differential  was especially pronounced for cell phone use, which is not surprising since the phone itself is the nexus of the ‘man-machine’ connection, while instant messaging is an application or function.  We also found some support for the idea that impulsiveness governs the impact of materialism on cell phone addictive tendencies; that is, impulsivity enhances the “man-machine” relationship.  As a result, our research puts cell phone and related technology addictions squarely into the camp of consumer addictions like credit card abuse and compulsive buying.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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