A University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business study released today showed that cellphone use left users less socially- minded in the real world, as they became immersed in a virtual world that fueled their need for social connectivity.
From the university's statement on the study:
The researchers found that after a short period of cellphone use the subjects were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity when asked, compared to the control-group counterparts. The cell phone users were also less persistent in solving word problems - even though they knew their answers would translate to a monetary donation to charity.
The decreased focus on others held true even when participants were merely asked to draw a picture of their cellphones and think about how they used them.
The study involved separate sets of college student subjects - both men and women and generally in their early 20s. "We would expect a similar pattern of effects with people from other age groups," said Ferraro. "Given the increasing pervasiveness of cellphones, it does have the potential to have broad social implications."
Of note, the study suggests that people can get so focused on their cellphones, and the social-connectedness that it satisfies, that they pay less attention to the world around them.
From UMD: The authors cited previous research in explaining a root cause of their findings: "The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong." This results in reducing one's desire to connect with others or to engage in empathic and prosocial behavior.