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Phubbing: The Latest Ugly Side Effect of Cell Phone Use

Phubbing: The Latest Ugly Side Effect of Cell Phone Use


Phubbing HEADER 1 - Phubbing: The Latest Ugly Side Effect of Cell Phone Use

As if the link between cell phones and cancer wasn’t enough, we now have phubbing to worry about. Now, you may or may not be wondering: What is phubbing? Maybe using phubbing in a sentence will help: While having coffee with a friend, I was trying to tell her about my new job, but she was basically phubbing me the entire time!

If you’re still waiting for me to define phubbing, a basic phubbing definition is to choose technology, specifically your smartphone, over human interaction. Or, think of it this way: phone + snubbing = phubbing. Sadly, it’s something we’re all seeing around us on a daily basis these days.

Phubbing is bad for you, and the science is there to prove it. In fact, research suggests that it negatively impacts relationship satisfaction and overall life satisfaction. (1) Whether you’re looking to help yourself or someone you know, let’s take a look at the hazards of phubbing. We’ll investigate the many ways to stop phubbing today so you can return to a more normal, satisfying life.


What Is Phubbing?

So what is phubbing? Phubbing (urban dictionary top definition): snubbing someone in favor of your mobile phone. (2) Another way to define phubbing: to ignore a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device. (3) The correct phubbing pronunciation is ˈfʌbɪŋ. Again, think of the word “phone” combined with “snubbing.”

One more phubbing meaning along the same lines comes from the Oxford Living Dictionary. That definition? Phubbing is “the practice of ignoring one’s companion or companions in order to pay attention to one’s phone or other mobile device.” This mix of the words “phone” and “snubbing” is said to have been created by an Australian advertising agency as part of a marketing campaign with the Macquarie Dictionary. (4)

What causes phubbing? Research published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions reveals that factors associated with phubbing behavior include addictions to:

  • Mobile phone
  • Texting
  • Social media
  • Internet addictions (5)

Another study published in 2018 looked at phubbing behavior amongst 400 young adults selected randomly from five colleges in India and produced similar results. Researchers found that the most important predictors linked with phubbers were:

  • Internet addiction
  • Smartphone addiction
  • Fear of missing out
  • Lack of self-control (6)

I’m sure you’re now getting the picture. In fact, chances are you’ve been phubbed. (Or maybe you’ve done it?)

While phubbing may seem like no big deal and just part of life in a modern world, it’s actually something we really should be thinking twice about. More and more, studies are showing, and we’re seeing for ourselves, the harmful effects of this relatively new bad habit.


4 Major Dangers of Phubbing

Phubbing is a funny sounding word for something that is actually pretty serious. And it’s only getting worse as time goes on. Conversations about cell phone health often focus on radiation and its potential impact on the brain and other organs. Now, it’s time to take a look at what phubbing can do to your mental and emotional health, too.

1. General Relationship Killer

Psychology Today recently published an article titled, “Phubbing—The #1 Phone Habit to Drop For Better Relationships.” By far, one of the most negative impacts of phubbing relates to its ability to damage relationships in your life. This including the ones you have with your family members, friends and co-workers. According to Emma Seppälä, a psychologist at Stanford and Yale universities and author of The Happiness Track: “Ironically, phubbing is meant to connect you, presumably, with someone through social media or texting. But it actually can severely disrupt your present-moment, in-person relationships.” (7)

Phubbing graphic - Phubbing: The Latest Ugly Side Effect of Cell Phone Use

Whether you’re someone who is commonly phubbing others or you’re on the receiving end of it, there’s no doubt about it — it often leads to emotional distress. When two people are physically together and one or both are choosing a phone over human interaction, feelings of disconnection, anger and resentment may crop up. Depending on the people involved and how often the phubbing takes place, the damage can be ongoing or even permanent.

2. Harms Romantic Partnerships

Recent research shows that when one or both people in a romantic relationship are phubbers, the consequences should be taken seriously. One study found that phubbing’s negative impact on relationship satisfaction can degrade life satisfaction and trigger signs of depression.

When spouses or significant others phub each other, they’re more likely to be dissatisfied with their relationship and their lives in general. They’re also more likely to feel depressed. The study also found that people with anxious attachment styles reported higher levels of cell phone conflict than those with less anxious attachment styles. (8)

3. Damages Mental Health

A clinical study published in 2018 in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology looked at the effects of phubbing on social interaction. The study participants watched a three-minute animation where they imagined themselves as part of a two-person conversation. During that conversation, the other person either phubbed them extensively, partially or not at all.  Overall, the researchers found that phubbing threatened four fundamental human needs:

  • Belongingness
  • Self-esteem
  • Meaningful existence
  • Control (9)

#4. Negative Impacts on Physical, Mental and Social Health in Youth

The effects of phubbing aren’t just impacting adults. We’re seeing major repercussions for younger users, too. Of course, various challenges are nothing new. But today, navigating from adolescent to young adults has its own unique set of technologically charged emotional challenges.

Earlier, I mentioned a study of 400 adolescents in India. This was part of the Phubbing Project at the University of Poland, which took place for six months. The results of the study demonstrate how phubbing can have “significant consequences” on the social health, relationship health, and self-flourishing of young adults.  Researchers also found phubbing to be “significantly related to depression and distress.” (10)


5 Telltale Signs of Phubbing

Not sure if you or someone you know is a phubber? These are some telltale signs you’re a phubber:  (11)

1. Looking at your phone while someone is talking to you

If you’re face-to-face with but you’re looking at your phone screen while they’re talking, you are phubbing that person.

2. Taking out a phone in social settings

Say you’re you’re in a social environment with a group of people, but not necessarily involved in a direct conversation. Choosing to look at your cellphone rather than focusing on the conversation taking place around you is also typically considered a form of phubbing.

3. Never allowing your phone to be out of your sight 

If the thought of letting your phone out of your sight sends shivers down your spine, there’s a high risk you exhibit phubbing characteristics.

4. Constantly checking a cell phone

If you find yourself impulsively checking your phone, even when you don’t have any notifications, or you feel compelled to check it every five minutes, there’s a strong chance you’re a phubber.

5. Using a cell phone or other technology in bed

When it comes to romantic relationships, this is a form of phubbing that can really hurt a relationship. Can’t any area of your home be phone-free? Cell phones are known to mess with your sleep quality, but if you want to improve your relationship, it’s best to keep it  that electromagnetic radiation-emitting technology out of the bedroom.


Other Dangers of Smartphone Addiction

Loneliness is one of the many dangers of being addicted to technology like smartphones. While phones are used for communications, it’s important to remember that sometimes we need to disconnect in order to really connect with people. Loneliness is an ever-growing problem. In fact, researchers believe it’s responsible for more deaths than obesity. The invention of text messaging and social media comes a time when research shows we’re feeling more socially isolated and alone than ever. (12)

In addition to mental and emotional health concerns, we should also consider the physical health concerns linked to cell phones. Even though cell phones are considered to emit low levels of EMFs, some studies suggest brains effects. Environmental Working Group conducted clinical research to evaluate the effect of cell phones on brain chemistry. They found that brain glucose increased during extended exposure. More studies are needed to ID potential long-term harmful consequences of cell phone use, but I know I’m going to practice the precautionary principle and be smart about my cell phone use. (13)


How to Overcome Phubbing & Smartphone Addiction

If you’re trying to stop phubbing, then it’s important to learn how to spend time without your phone. If you’re speaking with a loved one, friend or colleague, make it a personal rule to not look at your phone unless it’s an emergency of some kind. (Reminder: checking Facebook mindlessly is not an emergency). When it comes to social media, try to refrain from mindlessly scrolling. Did you know scientists are identifying links between social media and mental illness?

Schedule a Phone-Free Hour

Julie Hart, a relationship expert from The Hart Centre in Australia, suggests this: “Sit down together and set out some rules about phone-free time, where you basically put your phone away somewhere where you can’t hear it, for a full hour every night while you and your partner spend some quality time together.” (14)

Set Up Phone-Free Zones

Try making certain rooms in your house technology-free or at least, phone-free zones. The bedroom is a great place to start. Not using technology while eating meals together is another common recommendation to stop addictive behavior related to cellphone use. Setting boundaries like this for yourself and your family can go a long way to improve connection and relationship satisfaction. (15)

Don’t Phub Others for Work

For many of us, at the end of the day and when we look back on our lives, we don’t want to think we traded in our most precious relationships to be tied to our work 24-7.

I know many Americans feel overworked and overstressed, but know that you are in control when it comes to setting people’s expectations. You may not want to drop everything during off-work hours to answer a work request in seconds. Just because this behavior is common today doesn’t mean that it’s normal or healthy.

Center Your Mind

Stress reducing activities like exercise, prayer and meditation can also really help to break addictions to technology which can make you less likely to be a phubber.

Stopphubbing.com is actually entirely devoted to ending phubbing. The site even offers posters for businesses (hint, restaurants) to hang up to discourage phubbing.

For more ways to end cell phone addiction, you may want to check out my article on nomophobia.


Phubbing Statistics

Check out these scary cell phone usage and phubbing stastitics: (16, 17)

  • On average, we check our phones 150 times a day, which is roughly every four to six minutes
  • 46 percent of people in relationships have been phubbed
  • 22.6 percent say phubbing caused relationship conflicts
  • 87 percent of teens would rather communicate using text messaging rather than face-t0-face interaction
  • The United States, in particular, New York City, may have the most phubbers followed by Los Angeles and London.
  • An average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing during an average dinner session

Phubbing Precautions

Don’t hesitate to seek help if necessary. If you think your phubbing or general use of technology has gotten out of control and is damaging your health and/or relationships in any way, there are now therapists that specialize in technology and internet addiction.


Final Thoughts

  • Phubbing definition: to ignore a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device
  • Phubbing has become an increasing problem amongst people of all ages in recent years.
  • Scientific research suggests that phubbers face negative mental and social repercussions as a result of unhealthy smartphone use.
  • Reducing cellphone use, especially when in social situations, is the main way to decrease the risk of phubbing.
  • Even though it’s a funny sounding word, phubbing is a problem we all really need to address in the United States and all over the world.

Read Next: 10 Cell Phone Safety Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore

The post Phubbing: The Latest Ugly Side Effect of Cell Phone Use appeared first on Dr. Axe.


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