Your cell phone may be turning you selfishS

Are you an egocentric person? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time on your cell phone? A preliminary study out of the University of Maryland suggests these two things may be related.

Researchers Anastasiya Pocheptsova, Rosellina Ferraro, and Ajay Abraham wanted to look at the effect of cell phone use on prosocial behavior — i.e. behavior that is positive, helpful, and/or beneficial to others, be it a single person or society as a whole. So they rounded up a bunch of twenty-something college students and asked them to spend some quality time with their cell phones.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the researchers found that a short period of cellphone use made test subjects less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity when asked, compared to the control-group counterparts. They were also less willing to work on word problems — even when they knew that successfully completing said word problems would result in money being donated to a charity.

Weirdly enough, the same anti-social behavior could be triggered by simply asking test subjects to sketch a picture of their cell phone and reflect on how they use them.

"The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong," explained the authors in a release from the University of Maryland. The researchers are basically saying that your cell phone acts as a sort of black hole for socially minded conduct; engage with your phone for a long enough period of time, and your brain's need to connect with others and "engage in empathic and prosocial behavior" are sufficiently met — albeit at the expense of actual societal betterment, let alone participation.

It's bears mentioning that this is only a working study (in other words, the paper describing the findings has yet to be published or subjected to peer-review), and that may be for good reason. For example, nowhere is it made clear how short a "short period" of cell phone use is (five minutes? Thirty?); what kind of cell phone-use the researchers are describing (text messaging? Playing Words With Friends?); or whether the effects of cell phone use on prosocial behavior wear off — all of which are definitely in need of clarification and/or exploration.

We tried getting in contact with Pocheptsova, Ferraro, and Abraham, but they've yet to get back to us to help address these questions. So with that in mind, take these findings with as much salt as you see fit.

[Baltimore Sun | University of Maryland]
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