Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session 10: Smartphones and Digital Screens
Thursday, 07/Sep/2017:
2:00pm - 3:00pm

Session Chair: Andrew K. Przybylski
Location: Room CIV 266

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A Large-Scale Open Science Approach to Digital Screen Time Effects in Young People

Andrew, K. Przybylski1,2, Weinstein Netta3

1Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; 2Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; 3School of Psychology, Cardiff University

The time adolescents spend with digital technologies has sparked widespread concerns that their use might be negatively associated with mental well-being though these potential deleterious influences have not been rigorously studied. This talk will present the results of data collected from a representative sample of English adolescents (n = 120,115), in which we used a preregistered plan and obtained evidence that the links between digital-screen time and mental well-being are described by quadratic functions. Further, our talk will highlight that results showed that these links vary as a function of when digital technologies are used (i.e., weekday vs. weekend), suggesting that a full understanding of the impact of these recreational activities will require examining their functionality among other daily pursuits. Overall, the evidence indicated that moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world. These findings will be discussed in line with existing, and future, recommendations for limiting adolescents’ technology use as well as a template for conducting rigorous investigations into the relations between digital technology and children’s and adolescents’ health.

Online connectivity and attentional capacity: Smartphone separation as a driver of cognitive performance?

Jens Florian Binder1, Astrid Carolus2, Ricardo Muench2, Catharina Schmidt2, Florian Schneider2

1Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom; 2Universität Wüerzburg, Germany

We tested whether presence or absence of participants’ smartphones would have an effect on performance in a concentration task. Previous studies have shown that insecure separation from one’s smartphone can result in negative emotional effects such as increased anxiety while other studies have also demonstrated that one’s smartphone can act as a distractor for attention when being present in a situation. In other words, both smartphone absence and presence have shown to predict impaired attentional capacity. Studies on smartphone distraction to date have mostly addressed effects due to actual phone activity. In contrast, our set up aimed at establishing more subtle effects by varying the overall status of the smartphone throughout the task.

In order to test attentional capacity, we used a modified version of the attentional blink task, a routine method in cognitive psychology. During the attentional blink procedure participants are confronted with a string of visual stimuli in fast succession at the same spatial location on the computer screen, which requires continuous and undistracted attention to the screen over several trials.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions. In a natural condition smartphones remained in the possession of participants, but out of sight. In a visible condition participants’ phones were positioned next to the computer screen they needed to focus on for the task. In a locked away condition phones were locked away in a metal container, remaining close to the participant during the test. In a removed condition phones were taken out of the room by the experimenter. Upon completion of the task, participants responded to a short measure of state anxiety and other items designed to capture emotional states. In addition, fear of missing out (FOMO) was measured in a context seemingly unrelated to the concentration task.

Results indicate that performance, measured as the number of correctly identified targets in the attentional blink task, was lowest in the visible condition (M = 3.4, SD = .19), followed by the natural condition (M = 3.58, SD = .20) and the two conditions of separation where the smartphone was either locked away (M = 3.86, SD = .19) or removed from the room (M = 4.13, SD = .19). Differences were confirmed by a main effect for condition (p = .02) with post-hoc tests showing a significant contrast between the visible and the removed condition. In addition, this effect was more strongly pronounced for participants scoring high in FOMO as indicated by a significant condition X FOMO interaction (p = .03). Across all experimental conditions, state anxiety was significantly higher for females (M = 2.04, SD = .56) than for males (M = 1.75, SD = .58), but anxiety levels did not differ between experimental conditions nor did any effects emerge for the other emotion-related items.

This study confirms that mere knowledge of our phones’ whereabouts can have an effect on attentional capacity. In particular, it is the absence of the phone that improves cognitive performance, presumably because users do not anticipate any social distractions.

First aid in the pocket—The psychosocial benefits of smartphones in self-threatening situations

Frank M. Schneider1, Diana Rieger1, Frederic R. Hopp2, Tobias Rothmund3

1University of Mannheim, Germany; 2University of California, Santa Barbara, USA; 3University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

Without any doubt, the smartphone has become the Swiss pocket knife of the online generation. A plethora of tools are integrated as applications into this mobile multimedia device, reaching from information search, navigation, calendar, task lists, clocks, to games, audio and video player apps. Most importantly, the smartphone enables us to stay permanently connected to others, almost anywhere and at any time. However, as recent research suggests, the ubiquitous availability of the smartphone can have detrimental effects on users’ well-being. For instance, people experience the social pressure to be permanently available, feel obliged to respond immediately to messages, or sense the feeling of being ignored by others. At the same time, smartphones may present a direct gateway to facilitate social support via social media or instant messaging apps, thereby fostering our well-being. Moreover, previous research supports the notion that even simple reminders of social bonds can restore thwarted needs and well-being (e.g., the Facebook symbol; Knausenberger, Hellmann, & Echterhoff, 2015).

In the present research, we aimed at investigating whether and how smartphones can fortify a threatened need to belong and, thus, can serve as a psychosocial first aid in the pocket to cope with self-threatening situations in everyday life. We present data from two experimental studies. The first study—a 2 (Smartphone available vs. unavailable) x 2 (Smartphone picture during waiting period vs. control picture) design with N = 101—was conducted in the lab. Participants who were deprived of their smartphone experienced ostracism via Cyberball more strongly compared to participants with their smartphone in their pocket. Smartphones can thus be regarded as a ‘physical’ aid in the pocket when encountering social exclusion. But how exactly does the smartphone support recovering from self-threatening situations? In Study 2, we investigated the psychosocial functions of smartphones in more detail. Study 2 was conducted as an online study using a 2 (Social threat: Inclusion vs. Exclusion) x 3 (“Smartphone with apps” picture: Lock screen vs. Information apps vs. Social apps) design with N = 399. Presenting participants with a picture of a smartphone with social apps helped to restore belongingness after experiencing an episode of ostracism compared to the other conditions. We interpret the findings of both studies as preliminary evidence that the accessibility of social media on smartphones serves as (subtle) reminder of social bonds and facilitators of need restoration. Implications for smartphone use and social media in particular with regard to well-being will be discussed.


Knausenberger, J., Hellmann, J. H., & Echterhoff, G. (2015). When virtual contact is all you need: Subtle reminders of Facebook preempt social-contact restoration after exclusion. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 279–284.

Lexical Alignment and Its Psychophysiological Effects in Human-Agent Interaction

Tania Roxana Nunez1, Kirsten Bergmann2, Kajetan Prynda1, Astrid Marieke Rosenthal-von der Pütten1

1Social Psychology: Media and Communication University of Duisburg Essen; 2Sociable Agents Group CITEC University of Bielefeld

Linguistic alignment tendencies, a mechanism fostering communicative success and social factors such as mutual liking in face-to-face interactions, can also be found in human-computer interactions. While many studies have investigated when and why people align with computers, studies on the effects of alignment presented by a computer on the human interaction partner are sparse; particularly the investigation of social effects of computer-based lexical alignment in human-agent interactions.

Therefore, this study investigated whether lexical alignment (word choice) displayed by a virtual agent influences participants' evaluation of the system concerning its likability, competence and autonomy, participants' emotional states, and psychophysiological responses. An experimental paradigm was utilized facilitating both the investigation of the effects concerning the agent's (non-)alignment tendencies on the human interaction partner and the effects of temporally occurring changes in alignment tendencies. The latter seemed to be of importance, since it has been suggested that people are sensitive to dynamic processes concerning alignment behaviors.

In a between-subject design, participants played an object-naming and -matching game with a virtual agent. The game consisted of two rounds with reoccurring turns requiring either the participant or the agent to name on-screen everyday objects. Depending on the experimental condition, the agent changed its behavior from aligning to participants' word choices to non-alignment or it changed from non-alignment to alignment.

ANOVA results indicated that temporal occurrences of (non-)alignment during the game had a significant effect on the evaluation concerning the agent's competence, F(1,49) = 7.87, p = .007, ƞ² = .14. The agent was evaluated more positively if it changed its behavior from non-alignment to alignment (M = 3.88, SD = .65) than vice versa (M = 3.30, SD = .90). In addition, a significant interaction effect between the factors (non-)alignment and temporal occurrence of (non-)alignment was shown, F(1,49) = 8.29, p = .006, ƞ² = .15. After non-alignment, participants rated the agent's competence as significantly more negative when non-alignment took place after alignment (M = 3.15, SD = .91) than when it happened before alignment (M = 3.94, SD = .56). Competence was evaluated more positively after alignment when alignment was presented after non-alignment (M = 3.82, SD = .74) than when it happened before non-alignment (M = 3.45, SD = .88). Also for the agent's autonomy a significant interaction effect was found, further indicating presumed importance of the dynamics in alignment processes. For participant's positive affect, a significant main effect was found when considering three times of measurement during the game, F(2, 48) = 8.093, p = .001, ƞ² = .142. Further analyses showed a general decrease in positive affect over the course of the interaction. This finding seemed to point to weaknesses in the utilized experimental paradigm possibly resulting in a decrease in participants' task engagement. Finally, differences in physiological measures depending on alignment or non-alignment did not become significant.

Temporal occurrence of (non-)alignment can positively and negatively affect how agents are evaluated. More positive ratings occur when agent's behavior changes from non-alignment to alignment, more negative ratings occur when this is reversed.

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