Study finds that being sans smartphone is a legitimate stressor for young people

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You may have heard of “phantom vibration syndrome” — a phenomenon that occurs when people who usually carry around their phones in their pockets feel as if they’re getting calls or texts when they aren’t. But what about smartphone separation anxiety? According to a team of psychologists from the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, not having a smartphone within reach can be a legitimate cause of stress for young people.

The university conducted a study in which it monitored the heart rates of a group of 18- to 26-year-olds while asking them to complete math problems and puzzles on computers, according to a BBC report. Half the group had their phones confiscated in a locked cabinet, while the other half did not.

The scientists found that those who had their devices taken away had a more inconsistent heart rate during the breaks between activities, were more likely to stand near the place their phone was being kept, and exhibited behaviors that indicate stress, like scratching one’s face and fidgeting.

The team posits that the anxiety originates from a lack of security, as smartphones can be used as a stand-in for actual social interaction when the latter is unavailable, or too daunting.

“The mobile phone is special because it’s not only an important object, but also represents our other social connections,” said Veronika Konok, one of the researchers on the study. As such, the team compared the phenomenon to the way a baby can be comforted by a blanket in the absence of their parents.

Participants who were given another phone that wasn’t their own were also found to exhibit less stressful behavior. According to the BBC’s report, it is estimated that fear of separation from a smartphone affects about four in five young people.