What is “phubbing” and how does it affect our relationships?

Since the smartphone boom in the middle of the last decade, the presence of these devices in our lives has only grown exponentially.

The percentage of inhabitants of our planet who use a mobile phone is 51%In other words, neither more nor less than 3.78 billion people. This percentage of smartphone users rises, for example, in Spain to 80% of the adult population. In terms of social phone use, 42% regularly access networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram in order to interact with others. In light of these data (Fernández, 2016), we can assume that the way we relate to each other is in a process of constant change.

“With their constant whistles, bells, vibrations and whistles, phones are like a freakish kid who won’t get along until he or she gets what he or she wants. The desire for our phones is to be constantly supported. ” Roberts and David (2016)

What is phubbing and why is it normalizing?

Due to the need to describe a social phenomenon that did not exist many years ago, the Australian Macquaire Dictionary developed in 2012 a worldwide campaign dedicated to familiarizing the population with the word phubbing (Pathak, 2013) . Combination of the words telephone (telephone) and snobbing (contempt), this term refers to the fact, during a social meeting, ignoring someone while paying attention to your cell phone instead of talking to them face to face.

This behavior, certainly harmful in any social interaction, is becoming commonplace. Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas (2016) recently studied the causes and psychological consequences of this behavior. These authors found that, as one might intuitively predictOne of the causes that causes us to deliberately ignore the person we are with is cell phone addiction..

Phubbing and smartphone addiction

Among the factors that predict cell phone addiction, and hence phubbing, is internet addiction and its excessive use, which is closely related to other non-chemical addictions such as gambling addiction.

As a predictor of internet and smartphone addiction, these University of Kent researchers found that an influencing factor was the user’s ability to control themselves.. The less you master yourself, the more likely you are to become addicted to the Internet, to your smartphone, and therefore more likely to phub.. A final important factor that was identified was the fear and worry of being excluded from the events, events and conversations that take place in the social circle, which is at the root of this problematic use of the mobile phone.

According to the authors, the phubbing behavior is becoming something normal and acceptable due to what is conceptualized in social psychology as “reciprocity.” Repeatedly ignoring others while on the phone causes others, intentionally or not, to return this social action.

While no one likes to be ignored, roles are often switched during different social interactionsBeing an “ignorant” at times and ignored at others. Because social learning is fundamental in the acquisition of new behaviors, this exchange, according to the researchers, leads us to assume the false consensus that this way of acting is acceptable and even normal. The authors confirmed this by finding that people who ignored the most and those who were ignored more viewed these behaviors as something more socially accepted.

How does phubbing affect our close relationships?

The mere (visible) presence of a cell phone on the table can reduce the perception of proximity, trust and quality of conversation between two people, thus a more pronounced effect when discussing emotionally relevant topics (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2013).

About 70% of participants in a study on the influence of technology on relationships (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016) said that computers or smartphones interfered in one way or another in their coexistence. The more frequent the interference of technologies, the greater the impact on their well-being (less satisfaction with the relationship, life in general and more depressive symptoms).

Therefore, this phubbing behavior does not boil down to sporadic encounters with friends, colleagues or classmates, etc. but it can directly affect the structure of our most intimate relationships and have some influence on our quality of life.

Phubbing in relationships

James Roberts and Meredith David (2016), from Baylor University, decided to study the effects of partner phubbing or p-phubbing, that is, interruptions to look at the cell phone during a conversation in the presence of the sentimental couple. Due to the widespread presence of these smartphones, as mentioned above, it is very likely that interruptions will occur frequently among people who share a large amount of time, such as a wedding or any other couple.

Due to the need for human affection, these authors hypothesize that for a quality relationship to occur, the mere presence of the couple is not enough, but certain emotional exchanges must take place which must be reciprocal. These exchanges, as the use and presence of smartphones increase, may be reduced. For that, due to interruptions caused by p-phubbing, needs for affection and attention may not be met in the same way that they are without the interference of certain technologies.

Conflicts aggravated by phubbing

Regarding the results of the study by James Roberts and Meredith David (2016), as planned, The higher the frequency of phubbing, the higher the number of conflicts related to the use of the mobile phone.

Conflicts over phubbing and mobile phones were good predictors of the quality of relationships, that is, when there was a lot of conflict and couples engaged in phubbing, the quality of the relationship declined dramatically. Additionally, as relationship quality is a factor influencing quality of life, one could argue that disrupting our face-to-face relationships while using mobile can have a negative impact on our long-term well-being. This deterioration in the quality of life can lead phubbing to indirectly create a context conducive to the gradual onset of depressive symptoms.

It is important to note that in couples who have ended their relationship more often because of the cell phone, the number of conflicts was even greater in those in which one of the members had an insecure affection style, Relative to safe affection style. People with an insecure affection style, linked to cold emotional relationships and a greater desire to control their partner, would therefore be more affected by the contempt caused by their partner.


Given that at present the percentage of divorces to marriages is 50% (not taking into account the separations from other couples), the empirical evidence provided by this type of study should be useful in making us take awareness of our actions.

This realization does not mean that in order to have a successful relationship, we must isolate ourselves from the benefits that new technologies bring, but make good use of them. Just as a person can subjugate their partner by exerting excessive control over them and preventing, for example, from attending meetings with their friends, a cell phone (something inertia) can deprive us of time with our loved ones. . Taking advantage of our “powerful” frontal lobe, we need to take the reins of our relationships and be able to guide our lives to the best possible quality of life. There would be little point in living in an online world if we disconnect from what is really important.

Bibliographical references:

  • Chotpitayasunondh, V. and Douglas, KM (2016). How “phubbing” becomes the norm: the context and consequences of snobbing via smartphone. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 9-18.
  • Fernández, S. (2016). Spain, territory of smartphones. [online] Xatakamovil.com.
  • McDaniel, BT and Coyne, SM (2016). “Tech-conference”: the interference of technology in couple relationships and the implications for the personal and relational well-being of women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5 (1), 85.
  • Pathak, S. (2013). McCann Melbourne coined a word to sell a printed dictionary. [online] Adage.com.
  • Przybylski, AK and Weinstein, N. (2013). Can you contact me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences the quality of face-to-face conversation. Journal of Social and Personal Relations, 30 (3), 237-246.
  • Roberts, JA and David, ME (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: the friendship of the couple and the satisfaction of the relationship between couples in love. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141.

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