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Dealing with digital distraction
August 26, 2018, 2:55 pm

Our digital lives may be making us more distracted, distant and drained say researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada undertaking a study on how digital technology affects relationships.

For instance, even minor phone use during a meal with friends was found to be enough to make the diners feel distracted and reduced their enjoyment of the experience. Decades of research on happiness tell us that engaging positively with others is critical for our well-being. Modern technology can easily sidetrack us and take away from the special moments we have with friends and family in person.

The research team conducted two studies — a field experiment in a restaurant and a survey. The restaurant experiment included more than 300 adults and university students. Participants were either asked to keep their phones on the table with the ringer or vibration on, or to put their phones on silent and place them in a container on the table during the meal.

After eating, the participants filled out a questionnaire detailing their feelings of social connectedness, enjoyment, distraction and boredom, as well as the amount of phone use and what they did on their phones during the meal.

The researchers found that people who had their phones easily accessible during the experiment not only used them more than those with their phones put away, but they also reported feeling more distracted and enjoyed the experience less.

The survey portion of the research included more than 120 participants who were surveyed five times a day for one week and were asked to report on how they were feeling and what they had been doing in the 15 minutes before completing the survey.

Results showed that people reported feeling more distracted during face-to-face interactions if they had used their smartphone, compared with face-to-face interactions where they had not used their smartphone. The participants also said they felt less enjoyment and interest in their interaction if they had been on their phone.

"We assumed that this generation, generally referred to as ‘digital natives’ would be more adept at multi-tasking between using their phones and interacting with others, but we found out even moderate levels of phone use undermined the benefits of engaging with others," said the study team.

Another related study on the use of digital media and relationships found that compassionate people spend less time on social media than people who are more self-centered and narcissistic.
In addition, people with lower emotional intelligence, or those who have difficulty identifying, describing and processing their emotions, used social media more often than those who are more in touch with their feelings.

Previous studies had shown how narcissistic people use social more often than less narcissistic people, but there had been no earlier studies to determine the relationship between social media use and emotional intelligence.

The researchers analyzed data from four studies of more than 1,200 adult participants and used existing scales that assessed narcissism, empathy, emotional intelligence and emotion recognition. The studies also asked questions about how frequently participants checked and posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

More empathic people used Twitter less frequently than those who were not as caring and compassionate toward others, the researchers found. Also, people who were more likely to be able to see the world from another's perspective did not spend as much time on Facebook and Instagram. Another interesting finding was that people who scored high on a test of reading others' emotions used Twitter and Facebook less often.

Conversely, more narcissistic people and those who feel overwhelmed by the emotional experiences of others spent more time on all three social media sites.

The researchers said they could not determine causality from their study and that more research was needed to determine whether being more emotionally intelligent and empathic caused people to avoid social media, or if people with lower empathy were more drawn to it. The corollary of this could also be true in that the more frequent use of social media could be impairing empathy and emotional intelligence.

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