“But everyone does it!”

Is addiction to using your mobile phone universal? Do all students use their phones frequently and inappropriately, such as texting in class?

No. It depends on your personality traits.

Roberts, Pullig and Manolis (2015) looked at the personality traits of participants who scored high on cell phone addiction (applying structural equation modeling).

In the five factor model of personality, there are five major personality traits that vary between individuals: Extraversion vs Introversion, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, Emotional Stability vs Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness (Engler, 2009). In testing their model, Roberts et al. (2015) tested the correlation between these five traits and two other personality dimensions – Materialism, and Need for Arousal (Sensation-seeking) – with three dimensions of Impulsiveness, and with degree of Cell Phone Addiction.

Roberts et al.’s (2015) study suggests that there’s a variety of reasons for use and dependence on cell phones, and on misuse (that is, use in inappropriate situations), depending on the personality of the user.

I’m bored. Where’s my phone?

In general, the central trait of Impulsivity is associated with addictions. Two sub-dimensions of impulsivity, urgency and lack of perseverance, had been found by Billeux et al. to be directly associated with use of and dependency on one’s cell phone (as cited in Roberts et al., 2015). Those with high scores on Urgency report strong cravings or impulses, especially during negative emotions. Roberts et al. (2015) found one of the types of impulsiveness, attention impulsiveness, was directly and significantly associated with cell phone addiction (while other dimensions of impulsivity were not as strongly related).

Attention impulsiveness reflects an inability to concentrate on the task or topic. When bored or frustrated, there would be an impulse to distract oneself, and those high in impulsivity would feel an urgent craving to pull out their phone. Their mobile phone offers apps, texting, social media and games that could relieve the boredom.

I’m upset. Where’s my phone?

The Big Five trait of “Neuroticism” has three subscales, aggression/hostility, depression, and anxiety. High scores on Neuroticism were found to be directly related to cell phone addiction. Roberts et al. (2015) suggest that when those high in Neuroticism are distressed, they may reach for their phone to find solace, distraction, or mood repair. The mobile phone becomes an escape from their chronic and frequent negative feelings.

I need a social connection. Where’s my phone?

A large survey of more than seven thousand adults found that the most important reason people cite for using their cell phones is “a sense of being connected”. This fits with the finding that extraverts are more likely to use and misuse their cell phones than introverts. Roberts et al. (2015) found that introversion was directly and negatively associated with cell phone addiction (meaning the higher the score on introversion, the lower the score on cell phone addiction, and vice versa). That is, introverts don’t seek that sense of constant connection through texting or social media that is so important to extraverts.

I am my stuff. I am my phone.

To the usual list of five traits, Roberts et al. (2015) added a unique look at the factor of “materialism”. Those high in this trait value their stuff, their possessions, especially expensive things. It is part of their social identity, to gain status by the public display of their high-status objects. Those high in materialism were found to be more likely to be addicted to their phones than are those lower in materialism.  As Roberts et al. note, phones are not just useful tools. “Cell phones are often used in public and play an important role in the social lives of young adults” (p. 17) as a reflection of their material status, which for some is crucial to their identity and self-esteem.

Other factors didn’t have a direct relationship with cell phone addiction, but are related to impulsiveness, which is. Impulsiveness is a strong factor in why a student might have a problem resisting the temptation to check and then answer their text messages or post to social media, even when in inappropriate situations, like in class or while driving. Having a low score in Conscientiousness was significantly associated with impulsivity. Another trait, Need for Arousal, also called Sensation-Seeking, was positively associated with impulsivity. The researchers noted that those “with a strong desire for stimulation or excitement might find it difficult to resist urges [to text]… or remain on task” (p. 18).

So a conscientious and emotionally stable introvert is much less likely to text in class, while an impulsive, sensation seeking extravert, and/or those high in neuroticism, and/or low in conscientiousness, are more likely.

Good to know!

The Reference is:

Roberts, J. A., Pullig, C. & Manolis, C. (2015). I need my smartphone: A hierarchical model of personality and cell phone addiction. Personality and Individual Differences, 79, 13-19. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.01.049