Put your phones away to enjoy dinner: UBC study

Researchers find smartphones actually add to the boredom when eating out with friends and family

Smartphones might make people feel more connected, but they likely don’t belong at the dinner table, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

In a study released this week, researchers looking at the effect of smartphones on face-to-face social interactions found that people who used their devices while out for dinner with friends and family enjoyed themselves less than those who did not.

The study’s lead author and psychology PhD student Ryan Dwyer said the results confirm what many already suspected.

“When we use our phones while we are spending time with people we care about— apart from offending them— we enjoy the experience less than we would if we put our devices away,” he said in a news release.

The team watched 300 people go to dinner with friends and family, with some being directed to keep their phones on the table and others to put them away.

The researchers did not tell those being observed they were being monitored for their smartphone use.

The study found that people whose phones were present felt more distracted and didn’t enjoy spending time with their fellow diners. They also said they felt more boredom during meals.

“We had predicted that people would be less bored when they had access to their smartphones, because they could entertain themselves if there was a lull in the conversation,” Dwyer said.

The findings were not only limited to restaurant settings.

In a second study involving more than 100 people, participants were sent a survey to their smartphones five times a day for a week that asked how they had been feeling and what they had been doing for the past 15 minutes.

The researchers saw the same pattern, with people reporting they enjoyed their in-person social interactions less if they had been using their phones.

Elizabeth Dunn, the study’s senior author and professor at UBC’s department of psychology, said the findings add a layer to the ongoing debate over the effects of smartphones on public health.

“An important finding of happiness research is that face-to-face interactions are incredibly important for our day-to-day wellbeing,” said Dunn.

“This study tells us that, if you really need your phone, it’s not going to kill you to use it. But there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you’re spending time with friends and family.”


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