Phone addiction not driven by notifications, study finds

Smartphone addiction is unlikely to be caused by notifications, a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) suggests.

It found that 89% of interactions with phones were unprompted, with only 11% responding to an alert.

Group chats were also considered a "source of distress" for participants in the study.

Scrolling features on Instagram and Facebook led to the longest interactions, the research found.

Checking your smartphone is largely caused by “an urge of the user to interact with their phone that seems to occur in an almost automatic manner, just as a smoker would light a cigarette”, the study says.

The experiment analysed the smartphone use of 37 people with an average age of 25 in the UK, Germany, and France.

Participants were equipped with cameras that allowed the users to film their daily lives from a first-person perspective.

In total, 1,130 interactions were recorded for research by Maxi Heitmayer and Prof Saadi Lahlou, published on Science Direct.


Why people used their phones:

  • WhatsApp - 22%
  • Lock screen check (to see if any notifications) - 17%
  • Instagram - 16%
  • Facebook - 13%
  • Email - 6%
  • Calls - 1%

Although group chats were considered a “source of distress”, users said the messages contained within them were largely unimportant.

Emails were ranked as the most important notification for participants in the study.

Users also spent less time on their phone when with other people, and the longest interactions took place on public transport or at home.

Avoid the temptation

Some participants seemed surprised at the automatic nature of their interactions.

“I wouldn’t consider myself someone who isn’t attached to their phone much,” one participant said. “But seeing this has made me realise that I don’t even remember picking it up. I think I use it a lot more than I let myself believe.”

“I don’t remember getting my phone out. When I see that moment, I don’t remember doing that ... and I’m surprised that I keep checking it,” another participant said.