So *this* is why you can’t stop checking your phone

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  • There's a reason you can't leave your phone in your bag, and it's not because your friends are boring...

    We’ve all been there. You check your phone for an update. Two minutes later, you check it again, even though it hasn’t beeped.

    Then you meet your friend for a brunch date, but she can’t relax without her mobile on the table, eyeing it constantly, ears pricked for the telltale vibration. Meanwhile, your colleague seems to go a whole day with hers in her handbag, without checking it once.

    In fact, a new survey has revealed that the average adult spends 20 weeks a year in front of a screen, and one in five of us suffer ‘separation anxiety’ when away from our phones.

    The study of 2,000 British adults from Innocent also found that 30% of us check their phones at least every 30 minutes. At. Least.

    So why are reason some people unable to leave their phones alone?

    A study carried out by psychologists Henry Wilmer and Jason Chein of Temple University in the US, has shed some (screen) light on the habit. They believe that people who struggle with impulse control are more likely to keep checking and rechecking their device.

    As part of the study, undergraduate students were asked to answer a questionnaire about their phone use, and put through a series of cognitive tests that included being asked to indicate how much time they spent using their phones for social media purposes, to post public status updates, and to generally check their devices.

    A variation on the original Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, where a child is offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e. a larger overall reward) later on, was also used to test students’ tendency towards delayed gratification. Those who were less keen to delay gratification (i.e. the more impatient types) were also more likely to constantly check their phone.

    Wilmer says that people check their phones out of habit, rather than for any specific return: “Mobile technology habits, such as frequent checking, seem to be driven most strongly by uncontrolled impulses and not by the desire to pursue rewards”.

    So there you have it: your friend isn’t checking their phone all the time because they’re bored of you, it’s just because they can’t help it. Thanks science.

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