Study of the University of Basel: “Phubbing”: The mobile rudeness


If you use your smartphone during a meeting and ignore other people, you are doing “phubbing”. This jeopardizes relationships and threatens psychological well-being. Researchers at the University of Basel have now investigated the factors that promote this behavior. […]

Phubbing refers to the phenomenon of ignoring a person in order to use the smartphone instead – this can be observed daily in cafés, restaurants or even at the home dining table. The consequences are often far–reaching: phubbing – the term is a portmanteau of English “phone” and “snubbing” – can impair social interactions and relationships, reduce work performance and promote depression.

Although phubbing has been known for a long time in research, there is still a lack of knowledge about the factors that lead to this behavior. To determine these, psychologists from the University of Basel surveyed 128 students and have now published their results in the journal “Mobile Media & Communication”. In their study, the researchers distinguish between general use of the telephone, such as viewing the screen together, and exclusionary use.

Acceptance leads to more phubbing

A decisive factor that favors phubbing is the personal attitude – those who do not bother when others look at the mobile phone are more prone to exclusionary phone use while he or she spends time with others. At the same time, individuals with a more positive attitude to phubbing are also more likely to experience this behavior from others. Those who use their phone first tend to phub more often.

On the other hand, how well one evaluates the relationship with the counterpart seems to be less relevant: a lower appreciation of social interaction increases the general telephone use, but not the exclusionary phubbing. “This was surprising, because one could have expected that a less valued interaction would be associated with more phubbing,” explains social psychologist Christiane Büttner.

A vicious circle of emotions

Phubbing is becoming more common due to the proliferation of smartphones. Previous studies have confirmed that most smartphone users are phubbing daily in a number of social contexts – such as at work or lunch. Especially vulnerable are love partners and friends. Phubbing can lead to a decrease in satisfaction with social interactions such as conversations or shared experiences and a decrease in their value. In the long term, this behavior can lead to the distancing of those affected.

If phubbing continues to spread, it can be increasingly accepted and reciprocated. “A vicious circle can quickly develop here,” says Büttner. Persistent phubbing experiences can affect relationships and individual well-being: relationship satisfaction and perceived relationship quality may decrease, while feelings of jealousy, relationship problems and depression threaten.

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