Are You “Phubbing” Kidding Me? Put the Phone Down

A recent study out of the University of Kent examines the practice of “phubbing” — concentrating on your phone in a social setting. But is “phubbing” truly the new norm?

Two men stand adjacent to each other at a local coffee shop in Vaughan as they await their fresh-brewed beverages. They appear to be acquaintances of some sort, as they discuss personal and work-related matters. However, while they’re talking, both of them keep their eyes deadlocked on their cellphones — neither breaking for eye contact.

One of the gentlemen — who is older than his acquaintance — places his phone in his pocket, while the other continues to type away. After a prolonged pause, the older gentleman turns to his peer and jokingly says, “Get off your phone!”

Both of these men are guilty of “phubbing” — concentrating on your phone in a social setting — as defined by academics Karen Douglas and Varoth Chotpitayasunondh (of the University of Kent in the U.K.) in their recent study entitled, “How ‘phubbing’ becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone,” which appeared in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The study was developed to investigate psychological precursors and ramifications of “phubbing” behaviour.

Professor Douglas describes how the idea for the study crystallized in 2013. “He [Chotpitayasunondh] has a background working in medicine and mental health and is interested in addictive behaviours. He approached me because of my academic background in the study of human communication.”

A total of 251 individuals (158 women and 93 men) participated in the study — with a median age of 28. Through their inquiry, Douglas and Chotpitayasunondh ascertained that factors such as Internet addiction, self-control and the fear of missing out contributed to smartphone addiction, which, consequently, predicted “phubbing” behaviour.

In terms of gender, 53.1 per cent of females reported phubbing in social situations at least twice a day, however, only 28 per cent of men admitted doing it, according to Similarly, women were phubbed more often than men. Douglas and Chotpitayasunondh also discovered that smartphone addiction had a substantial influence on phubbing behaviour.

“One of the antecedents of smartphone addiction and phubbing behaviour is the ‘fear of missing out.’ Smartphones allow people to access a huge amount of information easily, and interact with others immediately. When people are not using their smartphones, they are therefore potentially missing out on valuable information and social interaction,” Douglas writes.

Douglas argues that in this day and age, people alternate from being phubbed to phubbing others. “People phub and are phubbed. It can become a vicious cycle. We argue that this is one factor that may lead to phubbing becoming normative. If everyone does it, and has it done to them, then it becomes normal behaviour.”

Dr. Steve Gennaro, who teaches “Media, Culture and Society” at York University, shares a similar view. “If you say the term ‘phubbing’ and tell people what it is, most Canadians will nod, agree and kind of giggle — which then (I guess) is an indication that they’re aware of this practice. It’s something that people are very familiar with. Now, how long this becomes the normal for, we don’t know — because technology is changing so rapidly.”

Time will only tell.

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Daniel Calabretta

Daniel Calabretta

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