Study exposes habit formation in smartphone users

Jul 25, 2011

Popular media has raised the issue of repetitive and obsessive use of smartphones. Data collected in Finland and in USA presents the first scientific evidence for what the authors dubbed "checking habits": repetitive checks of the menu screen, news, email, contacts, and social applications on the device. A typical checking lasts less than 30 seconds and involves opening the screen lock and accessing a single application.

The researchers were surprised to find users engaging in checking behaviors throughout the . Furthermore, a sizable proportion of smartphone use consists solely of checkings. Checkings do not occur randomly; they are associated with a small set of contexts that trigger them, such as reading when commuting or checking news while bored. Despite its prevalence, users did not regard checking behavior as an , but described it in terms of overuse and as an annoyance.

Checking habits may change in the near future as more and more informational "rewards" are added to smartphones. The paper argues that novel informational rewards can lead to habitual behaviors if they are very quickly accessible. In a , when the phone's contact book application was augmented with real-time information about contacts' whereabouts and doings, users started regularly checking the application. The researchers also observed that habit-formation for one application may increase habit-formation for related applications.

The authors conclude that promoting habit-formation has its pros and cons. − By making interesting content quickly accessible, developers are on the one hand making the device more useful but, on the other hand, the habits that emerge essentially conquer more and more of a person's free time, says Tye Rattenbury, who was at Intel Labs at the time of writing.

− What concerns us here is that if your habitual response to, say, boredom, is that you pick up the phone to find interesting stimuli, you will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around you. Habits are automatically triggered behaviors and compromise the more conscious control that some situations require and studies are already starting to associate smartphone use to dire consequences like driving accidents and poor work-life balance. Unfortunately, as decades of work in psychology shows, habits are not easy to change, Antti Oulasvirta, of HIIT, continues.

Explore further: Privacy groups take 2nd hit on license plate data

More information: The study, titled "Habits Make Smartphone Use More Pervasive," is published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. The authors are Antti Oulasvirta (HIIT), Tye Rattenbury (Intel Labs), Lingyi Ma (HIIT), and Eeva Raita (HIIT).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Young hockey player injuries studied

Nov 02, 2005

A University at Buffalo study suggests unintentional collisions and falling into boards cause more injuries among young hockey players than do body checks.

Three check-in apps for joining a crowd

Jun 06, 2011

Check-in services are social-networking apps that let you "check in" to tell your friends or the whole world where you are at the moment. One in five smartphone owners uses them.

Recommended for you

Privacy groups take 2nd hit on license plate data

3 hours ago

A California judge's ruling against a tech entrepreneur seeking access to records kept secret in government databases detailing the comings and goings of millions of cars in the San Diego area via license plate scans was ...

Scots' inventions are fuel for independence debate

Sep 17, 2014

What has Scotland ever done for us? Plenty, it turns out. The land that gave the world haggis and tartan has produced so much more, from golf and television to Dolly the Sheep and "Grand Theft Auto."

White House backs use of body cameras by police

Sep 16, 2014

Requiring police officers to wear body cameras is one potential solution for bridging deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public, the White House said, weighing in on a national debate sparked by the shooting of ...

Chinese city creates cellphone sidewalk lane

Sep 15, 2014

Taking a cue from an American TV program, the Chinese city of Chongqing has created a smartphone sidewalk lane, offering a path for those too engrossed in messaging and tweeting to watch where they're going.

Coroner: Bitcoin exchange CEO committed suicide

Sep 15, 2014

A Singapore Coroner's Court has found that the American CEO of a virtual currency exchange committed suicide earlier this year in Singapore because of work and personal issues.

User comments : 0