It has never been easier to connect with friends or stay informed — just a few perks of carrying a mini computer connected to high-speed internet in your pocket. Yet being constantly plugged in can also be harmful, researchers report. One new study found that people who spend a lot of time checking their phones and browsing online are more likely to lack mindfulness (attention directed towards experiences occurring in the present moment) and are more easily distracted.
Psychologists at Radboud University, Netherlands, and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, surveyed 371 people about their digital consumer habits but also performed cognitive tests. Being constantly preoccupied with online streams of information, such as always checking for notifications on your phone or returning to social media for the latest updates, is a psychological phenomenon called ‘online vigilance’. The researchers found that participants who qualified for online vigilance behavior were more likely to mind-wander and be less mindful.
The lowest score for mindfulness was reported among people who would automatically monitor or text on their phones without being aware of their feelings or thoughts. According to the study’s results, low mindfulness was also associated with decreased wellbeing. So excessive online communication doesn’t only make people unhappy — it’s insidious, making them unaware that it’s stressing their lives.
“Those mentally preoccupied with online communication were overall less satisfied with their lives and reported less affective well-being when they also experienced reduced mindfulness,” researchers write in the study.
Previously, studies have linked excessive phone use with a number of negative psychological effects, such as depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and interpersonal sensitivity. People who overuse their cell phones may also exhibit escapist behavior — using their phones as a way to avoid addressing real-life problems, such as anxiety and depression.
If you feel the urge to check your phone very often, it might be a good idea to resist that urge from time to time. Instead, choose to be more mindful of the moment and the people around you.
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