Mental Health

What Is Phubbing And How Does It Threaten Basic Human Needs?

Average Americans check their phone about 80 times a day, which is once every 12 minutes. At some point, you are likely to have experienced being ignored by someone in a social setting because they were busy checking their phone. In fact, you might have been the one on the phone, unable to pay attention to someone because you were focusing on your screen.

Phone snubbing, otherwise known as 'phubbing', is a well-known trend often cited as one of the unhealthy effects of smartphone prevalence. Many researchers have supported a change in social norms regarding phone usage when in the company of other people.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, phubbing threatens our basic human need to belong, negatively impacting relationships. 

To understand the effects of phubbing on the mind, 153 participants were gathered by psychologists from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. The research was conducted by researcher Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Professor Karen Douglas from Kent's School of Psychology.

They were asked to view a three‐minute animation in which they imagined themselves as a part of a one-on-one conversation. Each participant was assigned to one of three different situations: no phubbing, partial phubbing or extensive phubbing.

As the level of phubbing increased, people experienced greater threats to their fundamental needs: belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence and control. The researchers found that the need to belong was particularly affected. Participants also perceived the communication quality to be poorer, and the relationship to be less satisfying. 

These perceptions were mirrored in a 2017 study which specifically focused on romantic partners. In a survey of 450 people by Baylor University, 46 percent reported being ‘phubbed’ by their partner and 22 percent of relationships experienced conflict as a direct result. Julie Hart, an Australian relationship psychologist from The Hart Centre, listed the three connection factors that provide people with a sense of satisfaction in their relationships.

"The first one is accessibility, that you’re both open and listening to one another. The second is responsiveness, as in you both empathize and try to understand how the other feels, as in 'get’ each other, and the third is engagement, so you're both making the time to be fully attentive to each other," Hart explained.

She added that phubbing interferes with all three factors to some degree, leaving her unsurprised at the results of the survey. 

The new study is not the first time Chotpitayasunondh and Douglas have examined the modern phenomenon. In 2016, the team published a research that narrowed down the main reasons why people succumb to phubbing. These were revealed to be internet addiction, the fear of missing out, and a lack of self-control. 

"A significant portion of the world’s population use smartphones to conduct their everyday lives," Douglas stated at the time. "Many people simply cannot live without them. It’s therefore increasingly important for social scientists to consider the impact they have on the quality of social life."