How Are Smartphones the Digital Security Blankets of Today?

    How Are Smartphones the Digital Security Blankets of Today?

    Whether they admit it or not, many people cannot get through a day — or even an hour — without their phones. They use their phones in every aspect of life — getting news and updates, purchasing goods, working, or staying in touch with loved ones. Everything is right at everyone’s fingertips. You may find yourself nodding as you agree or shaking your head in disapproval. But either way, the smart phone now has a unique place in modern life. Did you know that some people also consider their smartphones as their security blanket?

    How Can Your Phone Be Your Digital Security Blanket? Researchers Conducted a 9-Month Study To Find Out

    A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, Brandeis University, and Friedrich- Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany conducted a study to determine whether the presence of a smartphone can affect the psychological and physiological responses to a stress-inducing social situation.

    They put 148 participants to the test by putting them under peer exclusion stressors. Before the experiment took place, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) phone present with encouraged use, (2) phone present with restricted use, or (3) no phone access at all. Throughout the study, the researchers collected saliva samples and self-report data to analyze three things: salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) levels, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, and feelings of exclusion of the participants.

    From there, they discovered that people tend to reach for their smartphones during awkward social situations. Their phones work as their digital security blankets, helping them to overcome feelings of isolation.

    “Our results suggest that the mere presence of a phone, not necessarily actually using it, can buffer against the negative experience and effects of social exclusion,” said lead author John Hunter, a UCI Ph.D. candidate in Psychology & Social Behavior.

    What Is the Effect of This Digital Security Blanket?

    The reduction in the quality and scope of in-person engagements is commonly viewed as a negative consequence of technology use. It is common to see a group of individuals sitting together but not having a conversation since they are all staring at their phones. However, the ability to divert one’s attention to momentarily escape an unpleasant situation can be advantageous.

    According to Hunter, smartphones appear to help people in two different ways. Phone usage can divert one’s attention away from negative things; thus, making the individual feel better. In addition to that, it also provides some social support. He mentions that having your phone with you grants you instant access to your family and friends.

    “Phones serve as symbols of an individual’s larger personal network,” he highlighted. “When people can shift their attention away from environmental stressors toward the symbolic connections offered by their phones, it may mitigate feelings of isolation and can provide a sense of security.”

    Co-author and Associate Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior Sarah Pressman also asserted how the body’s stress response alongside feelings of isolation and rejection can harm a person’s health.

    Shiri Melumad Also Shares Her Personal Experience

    Assistant professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Shiri Melumad also mentioned the effect of smartphone usage in her own personal experience. When she was working on her doctorate in 2012, she found herself reaching for her phone during stressful situations. She said it wasn’t necessary for her to use the phone, but simply holding the phone made her feel comforted.

    “It gave me a sense of ease or calm. It was similar to children who seek out their pacifiers when they are stressed. For many of us, our phone represents an attachment object, much as a security blanket or teddy bear does for a child,” she shared.

    Marketing Associate Professor Aner Sela also believes that “smartphones allow people to be themselves.”

    “When we are engaged with our phones, we feel we are in a protected place. You feel like you are in your own private bubble when you use them. We get into a state of private self-focus, looking inward, paying attention to how we feel, and less attuned to the social context around us,” she added.

    According to Pressman, the study is the first of its kind to highlight how smartphones can make people feel better. Moreover, it also discusses how it can reduce stress hormones in the body. Thus, implying that smartphones may be beneficial in some ways.

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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Dexter Macalintal, MD

    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Aug 05, 2022