Stanford University

Psychological and physiological effects of applying self-control to the mobile phone

Markowitz, D.M., Hancock, J.T., Bailenson, J.N., & Reeves, B. (2019). Psychological and physiological effects of applying self-control to the mobile phone. PLOS ONE, 14(11), e0224464. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224464

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Abstract

This preregistered study examined the psychological and physiological consequences of exercising self-control with the mobile phone. A total of 125 participants were randomly assigned to sit in an unadorned room for six minutes and either (a) use their mobile phone, (b) sit alone with no phone, or (c) sit with their device but resist using it. Consistent with prior work, participants self-reported more concentration difficulty and more mind wandering with no device present compared to using the phone. Resisting the phone led to greater perceived concentration abilities than sitting without the device (not having external stimulation). Failing to replicate prior work, however, participants without external stimulation did not rate the experience as less enjoyable or more boring than having something to do. We also observed that 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. We discuss how the findings contribute to our understanding of exercising self-control with mobile media and how psychological consequences, such as increased mind wandering and focusing challenges, relate to periods of idleness or free thinking.

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