Your smartphone may be ruining your dinner out

Hold the side of smartphone, please. A study says your phone could be sapping the enjoyment out of mealtimes with family and friends.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
2 min read

You should be focusing on that artisanal hamburger, sipping your lovingly brewed craft beer and sharing a good time with your family, but instead your fingers dance across your smartphone and you keep glancing down at the glowing screen

You already suspect your smartphone may be detracting from your restaurant experience, but now researchers from the University of British Columbia are here to confirm your technology fears

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Participants in a University of British Columbia study look at their smartphones in a cafe.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The researchers recruited over 300 people who didn't know the study was focused on smartphone usage. 

The participants went to a cafe with friends and family. They were randomly assigned to either hide their phones away or keep them out on the table during the meal. The diners later answered questions about the experience. 

People with phones out reported feeling more distracted and experienced less enjoyment of the time with family and friends than people with their phones hidden away. On a seven-point scale rating enjoyment, the phone users came in at about half a point less than their non-distracted peers.

The team published the findings in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology with the plain-speaking title "Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions."

The phone-users also reported feeling more boredom, which surprised the researchers. "We had predicted that people would be less bored when they had access to their smartphones, because they could entertain themselves if there was a lull in the conversation," said UBC PhD student and lead author Ryan Dwyer in a release today.

The UBC study joins a growing collection of research pointing to problems sparked by our reliance on smartphones. A 2016 study traced a loss of attentiveness to smartphone use, while a study from last year found the mere presence of a phone reduces the ability to think and concentrate. It's not surprising that phones could also impact our in-person social lives.

"Despite their ability to connect us to others across the globe, phones may undermine the benefits we derive from interacting with those across the table," the study concludes.

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