Cellphone use linked to selfish behavior

By Emily Fasold

Cellphones were originally invented to connect people but ironically, new research from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that they may be doing the opposite by promoting selfish and less socially minded behavior.

Marketing professors Anastasiya Pocheptsova and Rosellina Ferraro conducted two experiments on college-aged cellphone users and found that they demonstrated less pro-social behavior than a non-mobile using control group after spending only three minutes on their phones.

Pocheptsova attributes this to a “widespread desire for instant gratification.” She and her colleagues suspect that many people are so satisfied with their cellular contact with others that their desire to pay attention to the people around them is diminishing.

“Humans are social creatures, and cellphones temporarily satisfy our biological need to belong,” Pocheptsova said. “But once that need is satisfied, there is no longer a desire to connect with others.”

The research, which will not be published until further studies have been conducted, defines pro-social behavior as doing acts that will help others without directly benefiting oneself.

After text messaging and participating in other nonverbal activities on their phones, students were less inclined than the control group to volunteer for community service and answer vocabulary questions that would result in a 1-cent charity donation for every correct answer.

Ferraro said the results suggest that the cultural obsession with constant mobile contact could actually be making people less concerned with the well-being of others, although not enough research has been conducted to draw definite conclusions.

“It is possible that technologies like cellphones are contributing to a selfish generation,” she said. “It may be the case that since younger generations have always had cellphones, it has become a chronic behavior that could lead to a general lack of concern for others.”

Students were also split into two groups and asked to draw either their cellphones or TV sets and write about their experiences using them. According to Ferraro, participants who drew their phones spent less time later on answering questions to raise money for charitable donations than the TV group.

Contrary to implications of the study’s results, mobile devices have been used as vehicles for positive social contributions in the past.  According to the American Red Cross website, their Haiti Relief and Development Fund raised $32 million through $10 text message donations after an earthquake devastated the nation on Jan. 12, 2010.

Erin Miller,  communications coordinator for the Central Illinois Red Cross branch, believes that the simplicity and convenience of contributing to causes through text message are making donation rates stronger than ever.

“People aren’t perfect, and most of the time they’ll forget what they wanted to donate to by the time they get to a computer,” she said. “But phones have proven to be a wonderful tool for [increasing] generosity.”

Miller added that while often a positive part of social interaction, people who text and talk on the phone while driving frequently put themselves and others in dangerous and fatal situations.

“Cellphones are an interesting thing because they can be amazing when used responsibly, but countless people die in cellphone-related car accidents each year,” she said. “I think it just depends on who is using them.”

Researchers stressed that the results were preliminary and agreed that mobile devices can benefit pro-social behavior in some circumstances. Ferraro said she and her colleagues are planning to research the relationship between social behavior and cellphone use more extensively in the future.

“The idea that this technology that connects people might be making people less socially minded is an interesting one,” Ferraro said. “We really want to examine this potentially ironic use of cellphones further.”