You are compelled to check your phone – and you don’t even know it

Most of us feel like we can’t live without our phones.

We clutch our smartphones as if they’re our most precious treasures.

Why- do smartphones have such a pull on us?

For one, mobile devices help people improve their living standards.

Phones allow people to access information, services, education, and communication at a low price.

Indeed mobile phones are indispensable.

In fact, according to this article, there are 7.22 billion mobile devices in the world.

Of course, our phones offer many benefits. But it doesn’t come without a price.

Have you experienced checking your phone compulsively and reflexively?

Science says it is called classical conditioning. It makes us disconnect from the world around us.

In short, our phones’ chimes, buzzes, and rings compel us to respond.

What is classical conditioning?

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, first used the term “classical conditioning”.

It is a type of associative learning where a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response.

An example of a stimulus is our phones’ ringing. Response refers to what we do after we hear the stimulus.

In Pavlov’s experiment, he was able to train dogs to associate the sound with the subsequent presentation of food.

He found that the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell.

Classical conditioning in our daily life

Classical conditioning doesn’t only work on animals — it also influences human behavior.

Once we associate the stimulus to a particular response, our behavior is affected.

Sometimes, we are not even aware of it.

Take for example the advertisements we see on TV.

They use classical conditioning principles to get us to buy their products.

Pairing beautiful and scantily clad women with a sports car is one way of getting the men to buy. Men will unknowingly associate the car with the excitement brought by the women in the advertisement.

As a result, men are unconsciously drawn to purchasing the car to obtain that excitement.

Added to that is the implicit message that owning a sports car means excitement and power.

Classical conditioning and our phones

Our phones are associated with competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

We can connect with other people as well as gain access to information with just a touch of a button. Because our phones are repeatedly paired with these, even a slight sound will elicit an automatic response.

Have you ever been with someone who has smartphone’s chime is the same as yours?

What happened when it rang? I bet you reflexively reached for your own smartphone.

That’s the perfect example of classical conditioning in action.

Classical conditioning — what’s the problem?

Smartphones are often irresistible.

We find ourselves always on constant alert because of our phones.

The problem is they take away our attention from the people who are with us.

According to this study, phones reduce a person’s cognitive capacity.

For example, this research concluded that using a phone disrupts a driver’s performance such as delayed reaction times and inattentional blindness.

While we use our phones to connect with people far from us, it also diminishes the quality of in-person interactions.

This has been proven through a study conducted by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex.

They found that simply having a phone nearby even without checking it can have a negative effect.

Classical conditioning is real. It can affect our behavior as much as it affected Pavlov’s dogs.


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