Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Mobile phone addiction

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Mobile phone addiction:
What motivates addictive mobile phone use?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Since the first mobile phone came out in 1973, technology has advanced significantly, which has changed the way people communicate and engage socially every day (Wei, 2006). This book chapter will to explain the risks associated with mobile phone addiction, what motivates mobile phone use and what theories and research can help minimise the risks associated with mobile phone addiction.

Figure 1. Selection of mobile phones

Brief history[edit | edit source]

The first hand held portable telephone was introduced in 1973 by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola (Wei, 2006). The device weighed 1.1kg, had 30 minutes of battery life, and took 10 hours to charge. In 1983 Motorola released its first ever commercial mobile phone called the Motorola DynaTAC8000X. This device had the ability to store 30 phone numbers, had 6 hours of stand by and 30 minutes of talk time. The phone was very exclusive and only available to people who were willing to fork out over $4000 for the device (Wei, 2006).

Since 1983, mobile phones cost less than a third of the price, weigh about a tenth of what they did, and even the most basic phones now have the technology not only to make phone calls, but to text message, surf the web, email, install various applications with millions of uses, take photographs, video call and make calls to countries all around the world. These devices have changed the way people communicate. Mobile phones serve a very important role in modern society. They act as a form of communication which assists in the event of an emergency, helps concerned parents touch base with their children and provide a form of security, such as contacting ambulance or police services at the touch of a button.

Along with these benefits there are also many problems and disadvantages associated with mobile phones. Major problems include the ability to become addicted, fixated and reliant. Mobile phones can also be a major distraction and are the cause of many fatalities on the road (White et al., 2010). Mobile phones can effect real face to face interaction when people become too reliant on speaking over messages or social media. Mobile phone addiction can even lead to an anxiety disorder called nomophobia, which is when an individual experiences an intense fear of being out of mobile phone contact (King et al., 2013).

What is nomophobia?[edit | edit source]

Nomophobia is the intense fear of being without mobile phone contact (King et al., 2013). It is an anxiety disorder which involves psychological factors associated with the overuse of mobile phones. An individual suffering from nomophobia experiences several symptoms such as low self esteem, anxiety and depression when without the device (King et al., 2013).

Studies in the UK found that 53% of mobile phone users felt anxious when they misplace or lose their their mobile, phone or run out of battery (Wei, 2006).

These studies suggested that the prevalence of nomophobia is high, with suggesting majority of mobile phone users have become too reliant on their devices. Shambare, Rugimbana and Zhowa believe that mobile phones are “possibly the biggest drug addiction of the 21st century” (Wei, 2006). Symptoms of the disorder include depression, loneliness, rejection, fear, anxiety, trembling and tachycardia when without the phone (King et al., 2013). Characteristics such as using the device impulsively, as protection from social situations, carrying a charger and displaying a fear of loosing the phone or the battery going flat are also associated with the disorder (King et al., 2013). These symptoms occur when mobile phone communication begins to replace face to face situation and an individual does not feel comfortable in social settings. This dependency on mobile phones also includes characteristics such as obsessively checking the phone, distress and depression in circumstances when the individual cannot use the phone (airports, hospitals, work etc.) and the urge to sleep with the mobile phone (King et al., 2013).

Theory of planned behaviour[edit | edit source]

The theory of planned behaviour is a model of behavioural decision making which is used increasingly to assist with health promotion. This theory can be easily applied to understand the motivation behind mobile phone use while driving as one example of mobile phone use. This theory suggests that behaviour is determined by intention (White et al., 2010). Intention is influence by 3 constructs. The first is that intention is influenced by an individuals attitude towards that behaviour. Second is that intention is influenced by subjective norm, which is an individuals perception of the social pressures involved in engaging in the behaviour (White et al., 2013). Third is that intention is influenced by the individuals perceived behavioural control which is their perception of their ability to carry out the behaviour (White et al., 2013). This theory has been used to describe various health behaviours which an individual has control over. Previous studies have applied this theory to describe the psychological process involved with exceeding the speed limit while driving. These studies demonstrated that drivers who obeyed the law and kept under the speed limit reported positive attitudes towards the law, normative support and perceived they controlled their driving speed (White et al., 2013).

Figure 2. Illegal use of mobile phone while driving

Driving and mobile phone use[edit | edit source]

A study by White et al., in 2010 analysed the behaviours of drivers who both frequently and infrequently engaged in using their mobile phones while driving. In Australia using a hand held mobile device is illegal and is considered unsafe driving practice as it distracts drivers from the road. This study demonstrated that while driving participants primarily used their phones to either answer or make a call or to read or send a text message. Majority of participants owned hands free kits, and more than half of those participants did not use the kit. The study also revealed that participants who owned a hands free kit, used their phones while driving more often (White et al., 2013). This suggests their attitude towards the behaviour may have been justified by the ability to use the phone on a hands free device. This is also a concern as recent studies suggest hands free mobile phone use may be no safer than hand held mobile phone use due to the distractive nature of a phone call. Results demonstrated that drivers who used their hands free kits most or all of the tie (25%) compared to the participants who predominantly used their hand held phone (75%) indicated majority of phone related behaviour was conducted on hand held phones (White et al., 2013). These results are alarming as not only are majority of drivers engaging in risky behavior, which has a very serious potential for a traffic accident, they are also breaking the law. Participants involved with this risky behaviour reported to perceive the act as beneficial for time management.

A recent study found that 47% of Australians reported using their mobile phones while driving. Inattention is rated as one of the top perceived factors contributing to car accidents (White et al., 2010). It is important to understand what motivates an individual to use their phone, even when they know it is against the law (if not used with hands free), and dangerous while driving.

Quiz Questions[edit | edit source]

What percentage of car accidents in Australia are caused by distraction?


What motivates mobile phone use?[edit | edit source]

Five main motivators of mobile phone use include time passing, sociability, reassurance, instrumentality and communication facilitation[factual?]. Studies suggest that different motivators predict different uses of the phone[factual?].

Time[edit | edit source]

Time passing involves using the phone as entertainment in order to relax and have fun. Studies suggest that a mobile phone is used to pass time through entertainment. These studies demonstrate that an individual with high motive to pass time is likely to use video game applications on their mobile phone (Wei, 2006).

Sociability[edit | edit source]

Sociability involves using the phone in order to stay connected with friends and family. This involves the use of calling, messaging and interacting on social media pages. Individuals who are motivated by sociability find that the mobile phone allows them to keep up to date about people and events and stay in touch with people they don’t see often (Wei, 2006).

Reassurance[edit | edit source]

Reassurance consist of the security and peace of mind involved with using a mobile phone. Individuals who are motivated by reassurance believe the mobile phone is a sense of security and gives them peace of mind in the case of emergencies. These individuals are likely to use their phone to let friends or family know where they are and what they are doing, so will use the device primarily to call and message (Wei, 2006).

Instrumentality[edit | edit source]

Instrumentality involves using a mobile phone for organisation and in order to seek product information. A mobile phone for someone motivated by instrumentality is therefore useful in scheduling appointments and organising their life, as well as seeking information about products and services. Someone who is instrumentally motivated would primarily use applications on their phone such as their calendar and planners (Wei, 2006).

Communication[edit | edit source]

Communication facilitation involves the usefulness of a mobile phone in order to obtain news and information, multitasking and the ability to stay informed and keep in touch anywhere and at any time. Individuals who are motivated by communication facilitation find use in a mobile phone in gaining information about what is going on around them and appreciate the ability to stay informed and in touch with what is going on at all times. With this type of motivation, news apps, internet browsing for news or social media would be primarily used (Wei, 2006).

These motivators help in gaining insight into what motivates people to use their phone and what types of motivation lead to different types of phone use. Studies demonstrated that as mobile phones expand in function, more people are using phones for more than just instant communication such as calling and messaging[factual?]. Although communication is still a primary use for mobile phones, people, in particularly younger generations, are more likely to use all of the functions a high tech mobile phone may offer, from informing themselves with current news, to playing video games[factual?].

What can be done in order to prevent mobile phone addiction and its risks?[edit | edit source]

In order to prevent mobile phone addiction the theory of planned behaviour can be applied to imply interventions which help educate people of the dangers involved with mobile phone use while driving, and mobile phone use in general. These interventions would aim to educate people of the risks involved with overuse of mobile phones which can lead to anxiety disorders such as nomophobia. These interventions would involve teaching individuals how to decrease their phone usage and reliance on their devices and promote socialising in different ways, learning to cope with the anxiety of being without a phone and looking at alternatives to using a phone for every day tasks (White et al., 2010).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In conclusion, although there are many benefits associated with mobile phones, there are also many risks and dangers associated with the over use of them. This book chapter helped identify the risks such as anxiety disorders associated with mobile phone addiction, as well as the risks of mobile phone use while driving. This chapter also identifies what motivates an individual to perform these behaviours, through the use of the theory of planned behaviour. There is also a list with different types of motivations that are linked with different types of phone usage.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Armitage, C., & Conner, M. (2001). Efficacy of the theory of planned behaviour. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40(4), 471. Retrieved from‐analytic+review&id=doi:10.1348/014466601164939&title=British+journal+of+social+psychology&volume=40&issue=4&date=2001&spage=471&issn=0144-6665

King, A., Valenca, A., Silva, A., Baczynski, T., Caralho, M., & Nardi, A. (2013). Nomophobia: Dependency on virtual environments or social phobia? Computers in Human Behaviour, 29(1), 140-144. Retrieved from

Silva, A., Baczynski, T., Caralho, M., & Nardi, A. (2013). Nomophobia: Dependency on virtual environments or social phobia? Computers in Human Behaviour, 29(1), 140-144. Retrieved from

Wei, R. (2006). Motivations for using the mobile phone for mass communications and entertainment. Telematics and Informatics, 25(1), 36-46. [Retrieved from]

White, K., Hyde, M., Walsh, S., & Watson, B. (2010). Mobile phone use while driving: An investigation of the beliefs influencing drivers' hands-free and hand-held mobile phone use. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 13(1), 9-20. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]

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