Phobic of going phoneless? ISU study says you may have nomophobia

Graduate student develops test delving into the depths of newly classified disorder

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AMES — I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.

I would be annoyed if I couldn’t look up information on my smartphone when I wanted.

If I didn’t have a data signal or couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi, I would constantly check for a signal.

If I didn’t have my smartphone with me, I would feel anxious.

If you agree or strongly agree with these statements, you could have some degree of a newly identified 21st century disorder called nomophobia, an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia,” according to new research out of Iowa State University.

A 2008 study in the United Kingdom coined the term nomophobia after finding 53 percent of the more than 2,100 people polled suffered from the disorder, defined as a fear of being out of mobile phone contact. But subsequent research on the topic has been lacking, and only one study has sought to develop a measure for nomophobia, according to the Iowa State study scheduled for August publication in the scholarly journal, Computers in Human Behavior.

“Although there has been increasing academic interest in investigating the problems emanating from smartphone use, research into nomophobia has been scarce,” according to the study authored by ISU graduate student Caglar Yildirim.

Previous studies have identified some of the problems of smartphone use, including compulsive checking habits, obsessive usage, increased distress, and addiction, according to Yildirim’s report. But he, with the help of ISU associate professor Ana-Paula Correia, looked in depth at the dimensions of nomophobia “with the intent of using these findings to develop and validate a questionnaire to measure nomophobia among U.S. college students.”

In the first phase of the study, Yildirim identified four primary dimensions of nomophobia: fear of not being able to communicate, losing connectedness, not being able to access information, and giving up convenience.

College students interviewed for the study articulated those dimensions by discussing their feelings related to smartphones. One man, whose real name was not provided in the study, said, “It is like a good friend to me.”

“I am in the U.S. right now, but most of my friends are in China or somewhere,” he said, according to the report. “I have to use my phone to communicate with them. It helps me feel better, feel I am not alone.”

Another student said, “I just blew through my first 300 minutes a couple of days ago.”

“I was like, ‘Now how are people gonna call me?’” she said. “Even that makes me have a feeling of anxiety.”

The students talked about how they receive constant notifications on their phones and stop their work to check them. One student was asked how she feels when she inadvertently leaves her phone at home.

“I have done that before, and I just feel kind of like naked,” she said, according to the report.

When the students talked about the convenience of having a smartphone, including its ability to connect users with maps and directions, music, educational resources, and social media, one person said, “It is almost like a comfort that you carry around with you. It is like a peace of mind.”

“It is a kind of freedom,” another person said.

Based on those initial findings, Yildirim created a 20-question test to evaluate the severity of a person’s nomophobia. Those questions ask subjects to rate on a scale of one to seven — from strongly disagree to strongly agree — statements about their smartphone use.

That test proved to yield “valid and reliable scores,” but Yildirim said the research is far from complete. He suggested future studies examine the relationship between nomophobia and psychological characteristics like social anxiety and self-sufficiency.

He also said future research could produce predictors of nomophobia and look at demographic differences in respondents, including age, gender, education level, and socio-economic status.

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