Phones are important. But...
Let’s say two people are on a first date. They’re at a restaurant and, like most diners these days, they’ve placed their phones on the table, though they don’t actually talk on them or pick them up. How will this affect the way their date goes?
To find out, a team of U.K. researchers invited people into the lab to meet a stranger. Sometimes, a phone was sitting off to the side, while other times there was no phone present in the room. The strangers were then told to talk about something unimportant or about a meaningful event that had happened to them in the past year.
After the conversation, the researchers asked the participants questions such as how close they felt to the stranger they’d just chatted with and whether they trusted him or her or felt empathy toward them.
Chat what matters
When a cell phone was in the room, participants felt less close and connected to the guy or girl they were chatting to, the results showed.
They also felt less empathy and understanding from their conversation partner.
This was especially the case when the participants were talking about something meaningful. Under most circumstances, chatting about a topic that matters can build trust and intimacy between two people.
But this study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone (though the participants weren’t even talking on it) had a negative impact. And of course, feeling connected to a partner and building trust and intimacy is exactly what you hope will happen on a first date.
Nowadays, people take their cell phones everywhere: to the gym for a workout, on vacation at the beach, and out on a date. Cell phones can also take people everywhere, since social networks, WhatsApp, and email make it possible to chat with friends, family, and partners across the world.
Distracted by phone
But despite the fact that cell phones are as common as can be, it’s only in recent years that researchers have begun to study their impact on relationships.
At this point, you might be wondering how a cell phone can have such a big impact if you’re not even talking on it. Phones might cause a person’s thoughts to drift to their friends, family, and events they’re connected to via social networks – instead of on the person sitting in front of them, say the researchers.
As a result, they might be less engaged in the conversation, something their partner experiences as a lack of empathy or understanding, especially when he or she is talking about something meaningful.
Reference: Przybylski, A.K. & Weinstein, N. (2012). How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.