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Phubber's Emotional Activations
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Phubbers (i.e., those engaging with a smartphone instead of paying attention to another person during social interactions, thus ignoring their face-to-face interactor) appeared to be characterized by higher levels of technology-related addiction (e.g., mobile phone addiction, social media addiction, Internet addiction, mobile game addiction), psychological disorders (i.e., depression, social interaction anxiety, social withdrawal, nomophobia), trait boredom, and negative affective activations.

phubbing social media addiction emotional activation
Subjects: Psychology
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Update Time: 17 Dec 2021

1. Introduction

The disruptive impact of web-based communication drastically changed people’s way of socializing [1]. Nowadays, people can interact with many others at the same time regardless of the physical presence of the interactor, both in a synchronous or an asynchronous way [2]. In this sense, the “social situation” transcends physical space and can embrace both real and virtual environments [3][4]. A recent study from Simon Kemp and Datareportal [5] revealed that the number of global social media users grew rapidly in the latest years, reaching nearly 4 billion users at the beginning of July 2020. In other words, more than half of the world’s population is now using social media regularly [6]. Especially adolescents are particularly keen to use their smartphones, with 95% of teens reported having a smartphone and 45% of them said to be online ‘almost constantly’ [7].
The growth already underway in the use of new technologies has been accentuated even more by the pandemic. Indeed, in the current Covid-19 pandemic period, information and communication technologies (ITC) allowed people to partially compensate for the reduced social physical connectedness, offering the possibility to communicate with others, as well as to maintain their social relationships and networks [8]. However, despite their obvious advantages in bringing people together, smartphones and ICT, in general, may sometimes pull people apart and promote social “dysfunctional” behaviors [9][10][11].
Among these, phubbing has recently received increasing attention from scientists [1][12][13][14]. Phubbing describes smartphone usage that socially interferes in face-to-face interactions and refers to the act of “snubbing” or ignoring someone in a social context, preferring the use of the smartphone [12].
In societies, phubbing is very diffuse, reciprocally reinforced, and socially accepted, such that can observe it in a plethora of social situations (e.g., while eating with someone, during a drink or coffee break with colleagues, in family interactions) [1][15][16]. Indeed, the prevalence of phubbing in social interaction is estimated to range from 44% to 90% [1][17][18].
Phubbers (i.e., those who ignore their face-to-face interactor) appeared to be characterized by higher levels of technology-related addiction (e.g., mobile phone addiction, social media addiction, Internet addiction, mobile game addiction), psychological disorders (i.e., depression, social interaction anxiety, social withdrawal, nomophobia) [13][19][20][21][22][23][24], and trait boredom [25].
Despite that phubbing and social media addiction dynamics showed a positive correlation, they should be studied as two different phenomena. In the work of Guazzini and colleagues [13], the results highlighted a strong connection between phubbing and online addiction behaviors (e.g., social media addiction, Internet addiction), as well as with psychological and psychosocial determinants of online compulsive behaviors (i.e., trait and social anxiety). Their model was able to explain approximately 36% of the phubbing variance and, in particular, social media addiction accounted only for 7.2% of it.
Phubbing and social media appeared closely related, as one of the motivations for phubbing is to check the mobile social media apps that are increasingly pervasive and accessible in society [5][6][13]. However, as addiction variables related to information and communication technologies were unable to fully explain phubbing, phubbing and social media addiction-related factors may be different. Despite this evidence, individual differences research pointed out some important relations between phubbing and social media addiction. For example, both sex [1][12][26][27] and age [13][28] appeared to be associated with social media addiction and phubbing with a similar magnitude, with women and young people appearing to be more exposed to phubbing and social media addiction. Furthermore, research widely assessed that being addicted to smartphone, social media, or the Internet has negative repercussions on the well-being of the person [29][30][31][32][33][34] as well as being a phubber [1][17][26] or a phubbed [35][36].

2. Discussion

In society, the hyper connection and increased prevalence of ubiquitous technologies have changed lives and the way relate to each other. Social media represents nowadays the virtual space where people can interact with others, thus maintaining and increasing social connections and belongingness. This important change in relationality involved not only young people [37][38], as online communications appear as pervasive within many social environments: from work to family. Although new technologies may facilitate information retrieval and communication between people, they can pose a threat to the quality of relationships [35][36][39]. A paradigmatic example of such a “double-edged sword” is represented by phubbing; from one side, a hurting behavior for the phubbees during a social interaction [1][40][41], but at the same time, an adaptive mechanism for the maintenance of one’s identity and the expansion of one’s social network [42].
The study contributed to filling the current literature gap regarding phubber emotional activation, accounting for sex and age effects, considering it as a possible evolutionarily stable coping strategy for self-related motifs (e.g., anxiety reduction, feeling of control), as well as for socially related motifs (i.e., social capital and relationship maintenance) [35][43].
The first hypothesis (i.e., females will have higher scores on the phubbing scale) was partially confirmed. Although females tended to have higher scores than males in phone obsession, no difference between sexes was captured for the communication disturbance dimension. Although females and males showed the same levels of phubbing from a behavioral point of view, the work highlighted how females may experience a higher need for their mobile phone to be at reach [1][12][27][44]. A sex difference in social media addiction scores was also observed. In line with the literature [26][28][30][45] and second hypothesis (H2) predictions, females reported higher social media addiction levels. By combining the results coming from H1 and H2, females appeared in general to be more vulnerable to developing a dysfunctional use of ICT [1][12][26][27][30][45]. This dysfunctional use of information and communication technologies, whether intended as phubbing or social media addiction, seems to be closely linked to participants’ age [13][25][28][30][40][46]. Both H3 (i.e., phubbing is negatively correlated with age) and H4 (i.e., social media addiction is negatively correlated with age) appeared to be confirmed. Nonetheless, the analyses showed that phubbing, and specifically communication disturbance, entertained a smaller relationship with age than social media addiction. In line with the previous literature [13][26][47], a statistically significant relationship between social media addiction and phubbing, after controlling for age and sex (H5). In this study, the magnitude of the relationship appeared comparable to those obtained in other works where neither sex nor age were accounted for as confounding variables [13][26].
There is no differences between males and females regarding emotional activations, in continuity with what was observed in the U.S. normative sample [48]. Differently, emotional activations correlated with social media addiction [30][31][32][33], but only with negative ones, thus confirming H6a (i.e., social media addiction positively correlates with NA after controlling for age and sex), but not H6b (i.e., social media addiction negatively correlates with PA after controlling for age and sex). The same type of relationship was detected for both of the phubbing dimensions. Communication disturbance and phone obsession seemed to be positively correlated with negative activations, but not with positive ones. Consequently, only H7a was supported by the results.
Overall, the work provided preliminary evidence concerning phubbers’ emotional activation, which was completely absent in the literature up to now. Indeed, a few studies already assessed the emotional repercussions of being phubbed [35][43][49], but no work prior to the addressed the emotional activation of the individual that engages in phubbing. According to the theory of attachment [50][51], emotions serve as adaptive mechanisms for human survival and sociality. Positive affects bring people closer, while negative affects impair relationships [52]. It is already knew from the literature that the phubbee usually experiences negative emotions during phubbing [35], but now even the phubber has a negative activation.
Clearly, the results are correlational and no causation can be inferred. Therefore, It is not known if the phubbers have a negative emotional activation because they do phubbing or, on the contrary, if they do phubbing because they experience those emotions, or if both possibilities are simultaneously true. Moreover, the exploratory results are based on a biased sample owing to a non-random sampling technique and self-selection bias. Another limitation associated with the study is that the closeness of phubbers and people being phubbed was not controlled for, which it should be in future works. Finally, the  measure of emotional activations relied on trait rather than state emotional reactivity and self-reported answers that could be prone to overestimation or underestimation of people’s moods.
Despite these limitations, the need to reduce phubbing occurrence seems evident, for example, through technological solutions capable of making it less frequent (e.g., batching smartphone notifications) [53][54] and interventions aimed at raising awareness about what happens at a relational level during phubbing [36][55][56].


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Subjects: Psychology
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    Duradoni, M. Phubber's Emotional Activations. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 03 October 2022).
    Duradoni M. Phubber's Emotional Activations. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed October 03, 2022.
    Duradoni, Mirko. "Phubber's Emotional Activations," Encyclopedia, (accessed October 03, 2022).
    Duradoni, M. (2021, December 16). Phubber's Emotional Activations. In Encyclopedia.
    Duradoni, Mirko. ''Phubber's Emotional Activations.'' Encyclopedia. Web. 16 December, 2021.