Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Nomophobia and emotion
What is "no mobile phone phobia",
what are the effects on emotion,
and what can be done about it?
“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human inter-action” - Albert Einstein
Since the first robust Motorola mobile phone, famously known as the ‘brick’, was exclusively used for making and receiving phone calls, the mobile phone has evolved to become ‘smart’ and ‘slim’. At the touch of a button and the ‘swipe’ of a screen, we can access social media, browse the internet, listen to music, ask for directions, take photos and make and receive calls if we ever need to. It’s predicted that by the end of 2014, the number of mobile phones on Earth will reach 7 billion, including 1.75 billion smart phones. People are developing a psychological attachment to mobile phones and some already own two or more mobile phones. A new condition that may indicate compulsive behaviour and/or addiction to mobile/smartphones, referred to as nomophobia is causing debate amongst psychiatrists and psychologists.
What is nomophobia?
The word ‘nomophobia’ doesn’t have the Greek origin as one may expect. It is simply derived from the first two letters of the words ‘NO’ and ‘MObile’ + the word PHOBIA. In general any kind of unnatural or unreasonable fear is often named as phobia. Nomophobia is defined as the extreme, often illogical fear of being without a mobile/ smartphone or out of mobile contact (Dixit, Shukla, Bhagwat, Bindal, Goyal, Zaidi, & Shrivastava, 2010).
Nomophobia is considered the twenty-first century’s newest disease. It is a universally widespread digital phobia that affects millions of people, especially the younger population. Nomophobic behaviours can be seen almost anywhere. People are engaged with their phones while walking, jogging, socializing, travelling, or even driving and during the most intimate interactions with others. Nomophobic group behaviour can be noticed at airports, as people are anxiously reaching for their mobile phones as soon as their plane lands.
Anxiety experts and clinical psychologists agree that symptoms for nomophobia are similar to other anxiety disorders and may include panic attacks, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, dizziness, trembling, chest pain or elevated heartbeat (Bragazzi,& Del Puente, 2014).
Separation from mobile phone or even a thought of losing connection or having a flat battery may induce feelings of panic or desperation. Trying to keep a phone switched on at all times and/or constantly checking it for notifications are often warning signs of nomophobia (Borreli, 2013).
Some people even hear ringtones or feel phone vibrations when they are not present. This condition known as the mobile phone vibration syndrome could indicate a more serious addiction (Drouin, Kaiser, & Miller, 2012).
Nomophobia and emotions
What are emotions?
Emotions are subjective and purposeful feelings. Once activated, they evoke multidimensional feelings and arouse bodily responses. As such, emotions accompany important events, including interactions with people and objects. Emotions also play a role in communicating feelings to others, influencing others' interactions, facilitating social contact, and creating and managing relationships (Izard, 1993).
Nomophobia - Effects on emotion
People report feeling ‘lost’ without their mobile phone. The smartphone/mobile provides a sense of security and connection to the outside world. Brought up by triggers such as a lost phone, poor reception or flat battery, nomophobia is causing nervousness, fear, panic and anxiety (Löchtefeld, Böhmer, & Ganev, 2013). Research findings suggest that emotional composure of a person is affected when the mobile phone is not within user’s reach, because people have a psychological and emotional attachment to the technology. In extreme cases, people report a feeling of separation anxiety and cannot seem to function without knowing exactly where the phone is. According to a Lookout survey, people experience a range of emotions after loosing their phone, including feelings of panic (73%), desperation (14%), sickness (7%) and relief (6%) (Webster, 2014).
Theories - Why are we getting attached to mobile phones?
The studies of the relationships between individuals and new technologies suggest that the new technologies may produce behavioural changes and affect emotions. Technologies can be addictive because they are ‘psychoactive’, they alter mood and often trigger enjoyable feelings (King, Valença, Silva, Sancassiani, Machado, & Nardi, 2014).
David Greenfield, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut is among those who support the theory that attachment to a smartphone is similar to other addictions because it interferes with the production of dopamine, which is known as the hormone of ‘happiness’. This theory proposes that cues such as notifications for messages and emails, and the sound of the phone ring often trigger dopamine. Dopamine levels usually slightly increase, as people assume that it may be a text message from someone they like, an email with good news, an invitation to a party/event or something exciting (Tanaka & Terry-Cobo, 2008).
In addition, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that motivates people to do things they think they will be rewarded for, which could explain why people frequently check their mobile phones. With the internet, twitter, and texting all available on smartphones, people receive almost instant gratification of their desire to seek. It is easy to get in a dopamine-induced loop. People get rewarded for the seeking which makes them seek more. It becomes harder to stop looking at emails, stop texting, or stop checking for new notifications. Greenfield compares the process with the ‘world’s smallest slot machine’. Not knowing when or from whom a notification on the mobile phone will be received, forces the brain to keep checking (Davis, 2012). As a gambler who constantly plays with the hope to win a lot of money, even if there is no certainty that it will ever happen, people keep checking their phones in the hope that something good will happen (Tanaka & Terry-Cobo, 2008).
Another assumption is that people are obsessively checking their phones and eventually developing nomophobia due to the fear of missing out, known as FOMO. It may be argued that it is a form of social anxiety. Research has shown that many young people believe mobile phone use improves social inclusion as they can be in contact with friends at all times. Social networks become like a home community (Wei & Lo, 2006). Some mobile phone users report feeling loved and valued when they receive notifications on their mobile phones (Walsh, White, & Young, 2009). Receiving ‘likes’ on Facebook, Tweets or Instagram creates good feelings, including a feeling of self-importance. However, people are becoming overly concerned that they might miss an opportunity for social interaction, experience, or other satisfying events if their phone is not constantly checked. They keep checking their phone out of the fear of missing out (Walsh, White, & Young, 2009).
Nomophobia is a relatively new condition and more theories explaining why nomophobia is on the rise may develop with more research. Research by Butt and Phillips explore relativeness of Personality Theory to the patterns of mobile phone use. The finding that disagreeable extraverts spend more time customizing their phones may initiate new research and provide some new insights into nomophobia from the Personality Theory perspective (Butt, & Phillips , 2008).
Even though one may argue that there is not yet enough scientific evidence about nomophobia , various data indicate that nomophobia is real and that everyone can be affected.
- Prevalence: A study conducted by SecurEnvoy (2012), a security company in the UK, surveyed 1,000 employees and showed that the number of people suffering from nomophobia increased since 2008 from 53% to 66%. Number of mobile phones is coming closer to the world population number, as a penetration rate of 96% is expected to be reached by the end of 2014 (International Telecommunications Union, 2014). According to the Pew Research Center, as of January 2014, approximately 90% of all American adults own a cell phone, while 58% own a smartphone (Mobile Technology Fact Sheet, 2014). In Australia, 11.19 million are using smartphones as of May, 2013 which is a 29 per cent yearly rise, according to Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
- Gender differences: The first study about nomophobia ever conducted was in 2008 in the UK, with over 2,100 people, reveiled that around 53% of mobile phone users suffered from nomophobia (Mail Online, 2008)and that men were more prone to nomophobia than women, with 58% of male participants and 48% of female participants indicating feelings of anxiety when unable to use their mobile phone. Unlike the 2008 study, the 2012 study found that women were more susceptible to nomophobia, with 70% of the women compared to 61% of the men expressing feelings of anxiety about losing their mobile phone or not being able to use their phone (SecurEnvoy, 2012).
- Age differences: In terms of the relationship between age and nomophobia, the study found that young adults, aged 18 to 24 years were most prone to nomophobia, with 77% of them identified as nomophobic, followed by users aged 25 to 34 years at 68%. Moreover, mobile phone users in the 55 and over group were found to be the third most group of nomophobic users (Webster, 2014).
- Emotional impacts: In a survey conducted by Lookout (2012), 94% reported serious concern about losing their phone and 74% say they panicked when they lost their phone. Another alarming finding from the study is that nearly 60% said they do not go an hour without checking their phone. According to Gadgets Home (2013), a survey conducted by Cisco in Australia showed that nine out of 10 respondents under the age of 30 were worried about losing their phone and are addicted to their smart phones. Issue of phone attachment is real. Many users admit that they even sleep with their smartphone,and many are already comparing smartphone with all good Teddy Bear (Hong, & Soh, 2014).
- Workplace influences: A Harvard Business School included 1,600 managers managers and professionals in the leadership study that showing that that: 70% of participants check their smartphones within an hour of waking up, 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep, 48% check their phone over the weekend, 51% check their phone during holidays, and 44% said they would experience a 'great deal of anxiety' if they lost their phone (Segev, 2014).
- Unusual phone usage practices: According to statistics, 75 percent of Americans send text messages and talk on their phone in the bathroom. A recent survey found that 25 percent of owners of mobile devices answer calls in the middle of sex.Results of the Survey (2012), 54% participants check their phone while in bed, 39% while in bathroom , 30% during meal and 24% while driving(Webster, 2014).
Since nomophobia is a relatively new concept, there are a limited number of treatments that are empirical in nature and accepted by scholars. Generally, many of the available treatment methods aim to give the person with nomophobia more peace of mind. Treating nomophobia does not always require extreme measures.
There are ‘healthy ways’ of coping with nomophobia. People with nomophobia can try these self-help methods . Getting informed about nomophobia is the first step. Learning to control negative thoughts by practicing relaxation techniques, deep breathing yoga and mindfulness can all help in dealing with the emotional and physical symptoms of a nomophobia((Psychologytoday.com, 2014).
If you believe you have some nomophobia symptoms, you should try to follow some simple steps:
- Try not to use your mobile phone for a couple of hours each day.
- Wake up without a phone - wake up with an alarm clock instead.
- Don’t sleep with your phone – switch it off – put it in the other room.
- Don’t take the mobile to the bathroom.
- Introduce ‘No Mobile Phone’ Rules - communicate with others - be present.
- Train your brain- look around – be creative.
- Smile, hug somebody – link positive emotions to people that are physically present ☺ -real world is more important than the virtual one.
Occasionally, in the most severe cases, a person with nomophobia might seek therapy. A therapist can set up a plan to help a person to reduce their need for mobile phone phone . Cognitive behaviour therapy and/or treatment methods aimed to treat the actual phobia may be used.There are already some recovery centres that treat people with nomophobia. Lifehat is a leading drug and alcohol recovery center that has founded the first recovery group for people suffering with nomophobia. Popular, Morningside Recovery Center, in California, helps people with nomophobia. Psychologist Greenfield founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and is prepared to treat people with nomophobia (Morningside Recovery, 2014).
Digital detox programs, like Camp Grounded in northern California, ban electronic devices. In China, teenagers are often sent to boot camps where intense military-style training are designed to break their internet addiction, with indication that smartphones will be included. Apps have developed to help people with anxiety and mental problems. App called 'Menthal' can record how much time a user is spending on the phone each day. AppDetox allows users to create three different types of rules: to restrict usage of a selected app, to make it impossible for them to open selected app at specific time; to restrict use of the selected app at all times (forever); and allowing the user create a countdown-timer during which the app is restricted. Apps may effectively provide guidance and cognitive behaviour therapy at the touch of a button,but it is bizarre that it is often from the same smart phone that caused the anxiety behaviours and nomophobia in the first place(Morningside Recovery, 2014).
Use of medications to treat nomophobia is still controversial. It is due to the fact that nomophobia is still a relatively new condition and some psychologists and psychiatrist seek more scientific evidence to what a ‘mobile phone addiction’ is. Some argue that there is no physical dependency because the body doesn’t need to go through a withdrawal. Others share the view that nomophobia is a side-effect of some other existing anxiety disorder including social anxiety disorder(King, Valença, Silva, Sancassiani, Machado, & Nardi, 2014).
On the other hand psychologists, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi and Giovanni Del Puente, of the University of Genova,that nomphobia need serious attention and they have proposed adding nomophobia to the 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders '(DSM-V). The DMS is considered authority on mental health, as it is the standard classification of mental disorders in the United States and is valued and dominant around the world(Bragazzi,& Del Puente, 2014).
Even though nomophobia has not been included in the DSM-V, much more attention is being paid to the psychopathological effects of the new technology, including the effect of smartphone use on health and well-being. Further research may be needed to investigate the psychological aspects of nomophobia and to provide a standardized and operational definition of nomophobia. The interest in this topic is expecting to increase in the near future as there is certainly growing evidence for the existence of nomophobia.
Test Your Knowledge
- Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Mobile phone addiction Mobile phone addiction: What motivates addictive mobile phone use? (Book chapter, 2016)
Borreli, L. (2013). Technology Addiction: Warning Signs of A Cell Phone Addict. Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/technology-addiction-warning-signs-cell-phone-addict-247344
Bragazzi, N. L., & Del Puente, G. (2014). A proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-V. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 7, 155.
Butt, S., & Phillips, J. G. (2008). Personality and self reported mobile phone use. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(2), 346-360.
Davis, S. (2012). Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here’s What to Do. WebMD.
Dixit, S., Shukla, H., Bhagwat, A.K., Bindal, A., Goyal, A., Zaidi, A.K., & Shrivastava, A. (2010). A Study to Evaluate Mobile Phone Dependence Among Students of a Medical College and Associated Hospital of Central India. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 35(2), 339-341.
Drouin, M., Kaiser, D.H., & Miller, D.A. (2012). Phantom vibrations among undergraduates: Prevalence and associated psychological characteristics. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(4), 1490-1496. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212000799
Emerging Nations Embrace Internet, Mobile Technology. (2014). Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/02/13/emerging-nations-embrace-internet-mobile-technology/
Heggestuen, J. (2013). One In Every 5 People In The World Own A Smartphone, One in Every 17 Own a Tablet. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/smartphone-and-tablet-penetration-2013-10
Hyman, I. (2013). Are You Addicted to Your Cell Phone? Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201303/are-you-addicted-your-cell-phone
Hong, Y. H., Teh, B. H., & Soh, C. H. (2014). Acceptance of Smart Phone by Younger Consumers in Malaysia. Asian Social Science, 10(6), p34.
Izard, C. E. (1993). Four systems for emotion activation: cognitive and noncognitive processes. Psychological Review, 100(1), 68.
King, A. L. S., Valença, A. M., Silva, A. C., Sancassiani, F., Machado, S., & Nardi, A. E. (2014). “Nomophobia”: Impact of Cell Phone Use Interfering with Symptoms and Emotions of Individuals with Panic Disorder Compared with a Control Group. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health: CP & EMH, 10, 28-35. Chicago
Löchtefeld, M., Böhmer, M., & Ganev, L. (2013, December). AppDetox: helping users with mobile app addiction. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia (p. 43). ACM.
Mail Online. (2008). Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact - and it's the plague of our 24/7 age. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-550610/Nomophobia-fear-mobile-phonecontact--plague-24-7-age.html
Mobile Technology Fact Sheet. (2014). Pew Research Internet Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/
Morningside Recovery. (2014). Nomophobia Treatment | Morningside Recovery. Retrieved 20 October 2014, from http://www.morningsiderecovery.com/nomophobiaBottom of Form
Pew Research Center (2014). Mobile Technology Fact Sheet. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/
Srivastava, L. (2005). Mobile phones and the evolution of social behaviour. Behaviour and Information Technology, 24(2), 111-129
Psychologytoday.com,. (2014). Nomophobia: A Rising Trend in Students. Retrieved 24 October 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/artificial-maturity/201409/nomophobia-rising-trend-in-students
SecurEnvoy. (2012). 66% of the population suffer from Nomophobia the fear of being without their phone. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.securenvoy.com/blog/2012/02/16/66-of-the-population-suffer-fromnomophobia-the-fear-of-being-without-their-phone
Segev, L. (2014). Are We Addicted to Our Phones? TheTechieGuy.com. Retrieved from http://thetechieguy.com/2014/03/17/are-we-addicted-to-our-phones/
Smartphone Users Worldwide Will Total 1.75 Billion in 2014. (2014). eMarketer. Retrieved from http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536
Tanaka, W. & Terry-Cobo, S. (2008). Cellphone Addiction. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2008/06/15/cellphone-addict-iphone-tech-wireless08-cx_wt0616addict.html
Walsh, S. P., White, K. M., & Young, R. M. (2009). The phone connection: A qualitative exploration of how belongingness and social identification elate to mobile phone use amongst Australian youth. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/casp.983.
Webster, S. (2014). Lookout finds a nomophobia epidemic in Mobile Mindset study. AndroidGuys. Retrieved 19 October 2014, from http://www.androidguys.com/2012/06/21/lookout-finds-a-nomophobia-epidemic-in-mobile-mindset-study/
Wei, R., & Lo, V.H. (2006). Staying connected while on the move: Cell phone use and social connectedness. New Media & Society, 8, 53-72