When people joke that they couldn't live without their iPhone, they might not be exaggerating as much as you think they are. According to new research being away from your iPhone can cause separation anxiety. And as if that wasn't enough, it can also decrease both your cognitive performance and your "sense of extended self." So congratulations, you probably need your iPhone in order to function.
According to a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, iPhone users who are unable to answer their phone experience a wide range of negative psychological and physiological responses. In the study, participants had to complete two word search puzzles. Before either the first or the second word search, the researchers would tell the participants their phone was interfering with the Bluetooth equipment and needed to be moved further away, then call the participants' cell phones while they were unable to answer. Which is exactly as mean as you think it is. Those who couldn't answer their ringing phones experienced increased heart rate and blood pressure, and also self-reported increased anxiety and decreased cognition, as well as decreased sense of extended self.
The extended self issue is particularly interesting, in that "extended self" refers to a psychological phenomenon in which inanimate object can come to be viewed as part of one's self. In other words, being separated from your iPhone can make you experience a perceived "lessening of self," which is kind of scary when you think about it.
Beyond demonstrating that we are all psychologically addicted to our phones, the study also has some other interesting implications, namely the fact that participants experienced more stress and greater decreases in cognition by being unable to answer a phone than by the ringing phone itself. Which kind of throws a wrench into the works when it comes to the idea we just need to tell people to ignore their phones. After all, it seems the effort of trying to ignore your phone — ignoring a very extension of your being! — is a lot more distracting and unpleasant than being allowed to look at the thing.
"Anxiety from not being able to answer's one iPhone significantly predicted poor performance on word search puzzles whereas urges to answer one's iPhone did not," the study explains. In other words, high schools everywhere might need to rethink their approach to phone usage. I'm not saying let students text in class, obviously, but it might be even worse for their learning capabilities to force them to ignore messages.
But the biggest take away here is that we are probably way more psychologically dependent on our phones than we realize, to the point that being unable to answer them actually brings on separation anxiety. Is that going to be a problem for our species down the road? Hopefully not, but it very well could be.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to answer my phone.