Smartphone use is more reinforcing than food for college students, study says
College students want to stay connected with friends, be informed about what’s going on in the world as well as organize their daily activities. Smartphones and apps can be used to make airplane and hotel reservation, keep track of daily physical activity, calorie intake, monthly spending and shopping that needs to get done. They wake us up in the morning, take photos and videos, let us take notes and even let us watch movies on the go.
Even though they’re familiar with the damaging effects of extensive smartphone use and addiction, such as nerve damage, anxiety and depression, isolation and even radiation, college students would rather be deprived of food than give up on their smartphone time, according to a study conducted on addictive behaviors by the University of Buffalo, proving that smartphone use is a reinforcing behavior just like eating, doing drugs or drinking alcohol.
“When deprived of both food and smartphones, students were much more motivated to work for time to use their smartphone, and were willing to part with more hypothetical money to gain access to their phone,” said Sara O’Donnell, lead author on the paper and clinical psychology doctoral student in the Department of Pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo.
The students studied, aged 18 to 22, spend anywhere between five and nine hours a day with their smartphones. For the sake of the study, 76 students were kept without food for three hours and without smartphones for two hours while they read or studied. To gain access to either 100 calories of their favorite food or time with their smartphones, the students had to perform certain tasks, one harder than the other. Smartphone time won each time.
“We knew that students would be motivated to gain access to their phones, but we were surprised that despite modest food deprivation, smartphone reinforcement far exceeded food reinforcement across both methodologies,” O’Donnell said. “Research is just beginning to investigate the possibility that smartphone addiction exists. While reinforcing value does not equate to addiction, it seems likely that if smartphone addiction becomes a valid diagnosis, those individuals would have high smartphone reinforcement, just as individuals with alcohol use disorders have high alcohol reinforcement.”
The study was co-authored by Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of the behavioral medicine division in the Department of Pediatrics.smartphone addiction technology addiction