Your phone really does make you feel good, study says

Commentary: Researchers at Stanford contend that you're not necessarily addicted if you need to be with your phone all the time.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Enlarge Image

It's good for you. Really.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

You clutch it.

And when you're not clutching it, you can feel where it is.

And when you can't actually feel it, you know precisely where you put it and it'll take only a small stretch of your arm to touch it.

That's how most people are with their phones . Which leads to the suggestion that we're all addicted and addiction isn't a good thing.

A group of Stanford researchers isn't so sure. It conducted two experiments to see whether the mere presence of a phone might do us good. 

And as one of the researchers, David M. Markowitz, writes in Behavioral Scientist, the results were hopeful for the future of mankind.

In one experiment, 125 people were divided into three groups. Some were put in a room with their phones and allowed to play with them freely. A second group was left in the presence of their phones, but weren't allowed to touch them. 

The final group was entirely gadget-bereft, left only with their imperfect selves.

The research report offered fascinating conclusions: "Participants self-reported more concentration difficulty and more mind wandering with no device present compared to using the phone, while resisting the phone led to greater perceived concentration abilities than sitting without the device."

The idea, then, is that the mere presence of your phone is a more pleasant and productive experience than the complete absence of that beloved device. 

The researchers theorize that this is because it represents one's connection to potential social activity, given that humans are essentially social beings.

I worry, though. The idea that an inability to concentrate and increased mind-wandering are bad things is odd. Isn't mind-wandering the very symbol of freedom from encumbrance? Personally, I rather like having an empty head and letting it do its own thing.

Markowitz told me that he agrees that mind-wandering is helpful for artistic and creative pursuits. 

He added, however: "People often report worse psychological experiences when they are alone and have periods of free thinking compared to having anything else to do -- for example, reading a book, even giving themselves negative stimulation such as electric shocks." 

We are a mess, aren't we?

The researchers bolstered their thesis with a second experiment in which some people undergoing surgery were allowed their phones to play Angry Birds or text someone. Others were left without. (Clearly, neither group was under general anesthetic.)

The researchers say that those left bereft required six times the dosage of painkilling opioids than those with the phones.

And those who used phones to text needed fewer opioids than those who played with the birds.

Markowitz agrees that phones have an unhealthy side. "Companies that provide media content for the phone are using psychology and strategic communication research to get us to spend as much time on them as possible," he writes. 

He believes that some of these techniques -- such as constant notifications and gamification -- are there merely to manipulate us into staying on our phones.

On the whole, though, your phone is a force for good. Now isn't that a lovely way to start your year?

Tech Culture: From film and television to social media and games, here's your place for the lighter side of tech.

Batteries Not Included: The CNET team shares experiences that remind us why tech stuff is cool.