Today’s “always connected” lifestyle makes it easy to keep in touch with everyone in your circle of friends. But did you know that it is damaging relationships at the same time? New research indicates that just having a cell phone near you is bad for your one-on-one relationships.
Drs. Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein from the University of Essex studied the effect of modern communication tools can have on our interpersonal connections.
They crafted a very clever experiment to measure this impact. The observed interactions between pairs of strangers with various items placed discreetly in their general area. Some pairs of strangers had a discussion with a notebook nearby and other pairs had the same discussion with a cell phone nearby. In every situation, the cell phone or notebook was merely part of the environment, not placed between them or pointed out at all.
Some of the participants were asked to discuss something trivial, like their opinion on artificial trees. Other pairs were asked to discuss more meaningful topics, like current events.
After each discussion, the participants completed a detailed questionnaire about their conversation, specifically their feelings about the quality of the relationship and how close they felt to the other person after talking.
The researchers tabulated the questionnaires, teasing out the participants’ feelings about trust, relationship quality and empathy toward their discussion partner. They found that casual conversations were not affected by the presence of cell phones. So feel free to discuss plastic plants or speed bumps while your cell phone is handy.
The research found that discussions about matters of significance were affected by having a cell phone in the room. There was a pattern in the results that showed that participants felt that their relations quality was worse and they felt less trust and empathy in their conversation partner when a cell phone was present.
The study participants weren’t asked to observe the cell phone before beginning their conversation. It was up to the pair in the room to notice the phone, or not. But it appears that having the phone present, yet inactive, reminded the participants of the circle of friends that they could be interacting with, if only they weren’t talking with the person, face to face.
So what does that mean for us? Distractions of any sort are a negative stress on relationships. Do you have an sensitive topic to discuss with someone important to you? For best results, ditch those phones in the next room and eliminate the nagging urge to check the latest tweet or Facebook update, and really connect with that other person!