Stanford University

The Media Marshmallow Test: Psychological and Physiological Effects of Applying Self-Control to the Mobile Phone

Markowitz, D.M., Hancock, J.T., Bailenson, J.N. & Reeves, B. (2017) The Media Marshmallow Test: Psychological and Physiological Effects of Applying Self-Control to the Mobile Phone, SSRN.

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Abstract

This research draws on a classic delay of gratification framework from psychology, the Marshmallow Test, to examine the effects of exercising self-control with the mobile phone. A total of 125 subjects were randomly assigned to sit in an unadorned room for six minutes and either (a) use their mobile phone, (b) sit with their device but resist using it, or (c) sit alone with no phone. 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. Skin conductance data were consistent across conditions for the first three-minutes of the experiment, after which participants who resisted the phone were less aroused than those who were without the phone. Together, the findings suggest that self-control with mobile media is a complex psychological phenomenon that affects psychological and physiological behavior.

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