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Your smartphone is a 'security blanket' for your social life

Even when you're not looking at it.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
August 7, 2018
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nazar_ab via Getty Images

Do you instinctively reach for your smartphone whenever you're in an awkward chat with unfamiliar people, or just feel like you're the odd one out? There's likely a good reason for it. Researchers have published a study indicating that people treat their smartphones as "security blankets" to help them cope with uncomfortable social situations. In experiments, they found that people allowed to keep their smartphones had lower stress hormone levels when ignored in conversations, whether or not they were allowed to use the devices. Just the presence of the phone was enough to set them at ease, to put it another way.

Why? It might have to do with what the phone represents. It's a symbol of your "larger personal network," doctoral candidate John Hunter said. It may represent all the people you'd like to reach out to when you're feeling isolated. It might not matter that the people in front of you are being inconsiderate when all your phone contacts and Facebook friends are sitting in your pocket. And while there is an argument to be made for people losing their connection to the moment by staring at their phone screens, the researchers believe this mobile blankie can be helpful by offering a "sense of security" you wouldn't otherwise have.

The study wasn't a completely comprehensive one, with 148 participants and a mean age just over 20 years old. Older people who didn't grow up with smartphones might have a different response. If this is at all close to the mark, though, you might want to keep your phone close by the next time you're talking to new coworkers or classmates.

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