Wired

Smartphone separation anxiety: How bad is your nomophobia?

It’s weird being without a smartphone. It feels as if something is missing. That anxious feeling has a name — nomophobia — (no-mobile-phone-phobia) and researchers have found a way to evaluate how severe a person’s separation stress really is.

“People are becoming more and more dependent on and involved with their smartphones," says Caglar Yildirim, a doctoral student in Iowa State’s Human Computer Interaction program and one of the study's authors. "I wanted to dig more into it, in order to better understand why and how it affects people."

Yildirim and Ana-Paula Correia, an associate professor at Iowa State University School of Education, created a small, two-part study, which will be published in Computers in Human Behavior in August.

In the first stage, they interviewed nine undergraduate students about how they felt when separated from their smartphone. Through these interviews, the researchers identified four characteristics of smartphone separation anxiety:

1. Can’t communicate

People feel insecure when they can’t text or call their friends and family.

2. Lost connectedness

People feel they’re disconnected from their online identity.

3. Can't access information

People feel inadequate because they can’t Google answers to their questions or find directions with a swipe, for example.

4. It's inconvenient

People feel annoyed that they can’t accomplish simple tasks, such as making plans or dinner reservations, as easily without a smartphone.

After defining nomophobia, the researchers crafted a 20-item questionnaire to assess the severity of the condition.

While women are 3.6 times more likely to experience nomophobia than men, the researchers don’t understand why just yet.

“There can be some underlying psychological mechanisms that play a role in females’ proclivity to nomophobia, but we are still working on that,” Yildirim said.

Before anyone gets judge-y about smartphone attachment, it's not necessarily a bad thing, the researchers say.

"This dependency and involvement is not something that should be condemned or banned,” says Yildirim. “The problem arises when it starts interfering with one’s mental health and psychological well-being.”

Robert Weiss, a senior vice president of clinical development at Elements Behavioral Health, a Long Beach, California addiction treatment center, says we shouldn't categorize nomophobia as an addiction.

“[There’s] a lot of fear of technology,” says Weiss, who was not involved in the study. “Fear that [mobile devices are] going to hurt our youth, fear that we are not going to be able to keep up. And I think that it is all a bunch of crap.”

Devices help people stay connected and develop bonds in a different way, says Weiss.

“I think that people are very attracted to and appreciate the fact that their devices give them interaction,” he said. “When you take a device away from them … what they’re jonesing for is their friendship and relationships.”

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How nomophobic are you?

Determine your level by answering each of the following questions on a scale from one to seven, where one is strongly disagree and seven is strongly agree.

Score yourself by adding up the numbers: the higher the number, the more severe your nomophobia.

Questions:

  1. I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
  2. I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
  3. Being unable to get the news (e.g., happenings, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.
  4. I would be annoyed if I could not use my smartphone and/or its capabilities when I wanted to do so.
  5. Running out of battery in my smartphone would scare me.
  6. If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.
  7. If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to Wi-Fi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a Wi-Fi network.
  8. If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
  9. If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel a desire to check it.

If I did not have my smartphone with me:

  1. I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.
  2. I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.
  3. I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.
  4. I would be anxious because I could not keep in touch with my family and/or friends.
  5. I would be nervous because I could not know if someone had tried to get a hold of me.
  6. I would feel anxious because my constant connection to my family and friends would be broken.
  7. I would be nervous because I would be disconnected from my online identity.
  8. I would be uncomfortable because I could not stay up-to-date with social media and online networks.
  9. I would feel awkward because I could not check my notifications for updates from my connections and online networks.
  10. I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.
  11. I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.
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