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Study: iPhone separation anxiety is real, leads to increased heart rate and decreased smarts

If you feel a dark, heavy cloud over your head preventing you from being a fully functional human being whenever you forget to take your smartphone with you, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s now a study that declares smartphone separation anxiety is a real affliction that has psychological and physiological effects.

Researchers at the University of Missouri conducted a study observing what happens to iPhone users when they’re unable to answer their phones while they work on word search puzzles. Participants were told to sit at a computer in a lab and that the experiment was about testing a new wireless blood pressure cuff.

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“Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks,” said Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and lead author of the study. “Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”

The first word search puzzle was administered to participants while they had their iPhones with them, and the second puzzle was given while participants did not have their iPhones in their possession (vice versa for some participants). When the phones were taken away, participants were told it was due to “Bluetooth interference” with the blood pressure cuffs. Then the researchers cruelly called the participants’ phones while they were out of reach.

During both phases of the study, the researchers tracked each participant’s heart rate and blood pressure. Participants were also asked to note their levels of anxiety, and whether they felt pleasant or unpleasant during each version of the puzzle.

Not surprisingly, when participants were completing word puzzles while separated from their phones, their levels of anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure increased, while their performance on the puzzle decreased.

The researchers of the study recommend that iPhone users keep their smartphones with them whenever they encounter situations that demand their full attention (e.g., tests, meetings, work assignments). Teachers will likely have another view of things, of course.