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iPhone addiction will RUIN YOUR LIFE – if only that were true

Is your mobe 'an object of your extended self'? Uni trio says: Yes

Research has confirmed the unthinkable: perfectly normal, rational people turn into anxious sweaty moronic wrecks when they're separated from their beloved smartphones. Case closed, right?

Well, if by normal people you mean American journalism undergraduates, by stupid you mean they can't to finish a word search in five minutes, and by separated you mean they can hear their mobe ringing but aren't allowed to answer it.

If you're willing to overlook these caveats, good on you – you probably wrote a headline like "it's official: iPhone withdrawal anxiety exists and it will make you bad at work," on Monday.

The research in question was published this month by the Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, and written by a trio of media researchers: Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate studying the psychological effects of social networks and mobiles; Glenn Leshner, a journalism professor; and Anthony Almond, a PhD student focused on mass communication and cognitive science.

Their work caught reporters' eyes when they claimed their test subjects experienced measurable anxiety and impaired brain-power while solving puzzles when they were unable to check their ringing phones.

"Research has not shown how iPhone separation affects physiological responses during cognitively demanding tasks," researchers started off in their paper.

"For the current study, we ask the hypothetical questions, what physiological responses occur when students are taking a test and are unable to answer their ringing iPhone? Does anxiety from not being able to answer one's iPhone affect performance on the test? Or, for another example, when sitting in a conference meeting when one is unable to answer his or her iPhone, what physiological responses are induced?"

What happened?

Some 208 journalism students at "a large university in the Midwestern United States" were asked to complete an online questionnaire about their use of social networks, but the true point of the quiz was to identify iPhone owners.

Why iPhone users in particular? Let's not ask silly questions.

Of the 136 students who entered, 117 had an iPhone – and were offered extra credit and a chance to win a $50 gift card if they participated in the next section. Their average age was 21.2 years.

Just 41 were prepared to go on to the next stage, and each signed a consent form that included handing over their mobile phone number.

Each student was called in one by one to take a 20-minute test. By random selection, some (dubbed group A) were asked to complete a word search puzzle first with their iPhone in their pocket and then another one without their iPhone; the others (group B) were asked to complete a word search puzzle first without their iPhone and then another one with their iPhone.

For group A subjects, the trio strapped a wireless gadget to the wrist of each student during the tests, a gizmo that measured blood pressure and heart rate levels. Baseline measurements were taken at the start, another set after four minutes, and after five minutes, the word search papers were collected and each subject was asked to complete an "unpleasantness and pleasantness" survey about the experience.

The researchers would then lie that the smartphone was interfering with the wireless health monitor, and asked the student to do it all again but with the iPhone placed in a cubicle a few feet away. While taking away the phone, the academics made sure the phone was not in silent mode, and during the repeated puzzle test, they would secretly call the iPhone within earshot of the owner for six rings, and then a minute later, record their blood pressure and heart rate.

For group B, the experiment was exactly the same, except the puzzles were completed first with the iPhone moved a few feet away – to allegedly avoid interference – and then again with the phone near the subject's hands after the researchers announced it was actually safe to have the mobe nearby as long as it was in vibrate-only mode. The phone was then surreptitiously called again by the academics to see how the student reacted and their health levels recorded.

Only one student stopped her work to check her phone – and was immediately discounted from the study as the subjects had been instructed to not use their phones during the experiment.

When told the line about wireless interference was bogus, and that the researchers had called the iPhones to tax them, all of the remaining 40 students were happy to have their data used in the study.

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