When was the last moment you truly felt at peace without your phone within easy reach? For many of us, such instances have become increasingly rare. With phones becoming extensions of ourselves, the relationships we’ve developed with these devices can sometimes infringe on our real-world relationships.
According to a recent study published in Psychological Reports, phubbing, which involves ignoring someone to focus on your phone, may be more than a mere social faux pas. It’s likely that it reflects deeper psychological patterns, including one’s body image, self-efficacy and relationship status.
When we engage in phubbing, it can reinforce negative self-perceptions about our social skills and contribute to a cycle of social anxiety and dependence on digital validation. On the receiving end, being phubbed can make others feel undervalued, ignored and socially isolated. To foster deeper connections with the people we care about, it’s crucial to cultivate presence in our interactions, a practice that directly counters the distancing effects of phubbing.
Recognizing the psychological motivations behind phubbing is a vital step. By understanding the roots of phubbing, we can make conscious choices to be more present and attentive in the company of loved ones. Here are three research-backed reasons why we may be inclined to choose our phones even when human connection is readily available.
1. We May Not Feel Comfortable In Our Own Skins
Based on data collected from 282 adults, the study suggests that many individuals who engage in phubbing have a poor body image. Many who engage in phubbing are heavily invested in virtual environments, like social media platforms. According to a 2023 study published in Body Image, platforms like TikTok are likely to create and perpetuate body image issues in their vulnerable users, even when the content is labeled “body positive.”
To understand the mechanism behind this, imagine someone who feels self-conscious about their weight using their phone as a social shield while with friends. They obsess over capturing the perfect selfie, angling the camera just so, to conform to prevalent beauty standards, eagerly anticipating the validation of likes and comments. This focus on digital approval distracts them from engaging in present conversations, illustrating how deeply social media can affect self-perception and interaction.
2. We May Not Trust Our Abilities
The study also found that phubbers also tend to struggle with low self-efficacy, which is a belief in the ability to accomplish tasks and reach goals. This lack of confidence can lead to an over-reliance on phones as a means of escape from challenges that require real skills and effort.
As a result, important aspects of life that contribute to personal growth and competence, such as engaging in meaningful projects or learning new skills, may be neglected. This avoidance not only hinders the development of real-world abilities but can also erode one’s sense of capability and achievement, further entrenching the cycle of dependency on digital validation over personal advancement.
3. Singlehood Is Also Linked To Phubbing Behavior
The study revealed a significant relationship between singlehood and an increased tendency to engage in phubbing, compared to those who are married. This phenomenon might be attributed to the social and emotional gaps that single individuals might attempt to fill through increased phone use, seeking connection and validation through digital means.
In turn, this can perpetuate a cycle of singlehood, as excessive phone use during social interactions could hinder the formation of meaningful connections, potentially keeping individuals in a state of singlehood longer than they might desire.
Phubbing not only keeps single people single but may also destroy relationships. Married couples who engage in phubbing tend to experience a decrease in marital satisfaction. Sometimes, phubbing in a marriage can even lead to depression, according to a 2017 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.
The main takeaway here is that phubbing is a vicious cycle. It is both a cause and symptom of your psychological weaknesses. Learning about why you may be tempted to check your social media, messages or emails when you are around people is a step in the right direction.
To break this cycle, it’s essential to initiate change with small, manageable steps. Begin by setting limits on your screen time, gradually expanding these restrictions to cover more days of the week or shorten screen-time windows. Along with restricting your screen time, practice keeping your phone out of sight during conversations, storing it in your pocket or bag. Though challenging initially, these efforts can lead to significant improvements in your self-esteem and the quality of your interactions, offering a pathway out of the cyclical nature of phubbing and towards a more balanced, fulfilling engagement with both your digital and real-world environments.
To know more about your tendency to engage in phubbing behavior, take this 10-item Phubbing Scale.