Mobile phones are rapidly changing the social landscape. There are an increasing number of references in the popular literature to mobile phone addiction, though very little psychological research has been conducted on the phenomenon. The study described here was conducted as an initial foray into this area in order to determine whether some people evidence problematic mobile phone use and whether there is a predictive pattern of personality or demographic traits. As the topic is largely a new one, concepts from the literature on Internet use and behavior were used as guiding models.
An online survey was completed by 320 adult mobile phone users, who were primarily recruited online through advertising, postings, and email. The survey consisted of measures for loneliness, social anxiety, impulsivity, mobile phone use for affect regulation, and problematic mobile phone use. As expected, the research variables varied strongly with age, though little difference was found between genders.
Results indicated that people who prefer to use their phones for text messaging, rather than talking, evidence higher levels of loneliness, social anxiety, and problematic phone use. Additionally, impulsivity showed a strong and positive correlation with problem phone use. Both loneliness and social anxiety correlated significantly with problematic mobile phone use, though the effect of social anxiety was fully mediated by phone use to modulate affect. Finally, two-thirds of the sample reported that they had experienced a 'phantom ring.' That is, they had 'heard' their phone ring even though it had not actually rung.
The scale for problematic mobile phone use was factor analyzed and examined for construct validity. It was determined that the scale measures heavy use of and reliance upon mobile phones. Though 2–8% of the sample endorsed items related to potentially problematic use, the scale does not effectively discern severity of use and negative consequences.
Though only preliminary, these findings suggest that some people evidence particularly heavy use of their mobile phone and certain personality and demographic variables can be used to predict this use. Further research with better instruments will be required to clarify whether this heavy use has aspects of dependency.