Smartphone use is ‘contagious,’ study finds

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BERLIN, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 16: A visitor tries out an Apple iPhone 7 on the first day of sales of the new phone at the Berlin Apple store on September 16, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) — We already know that yawning is “contagious,” or that the reflex passes from person to person, but a new study finds a similar mechanism at work in smartphone use.

The researchers, who published their study recently in the Journal of Ethnology, found that seeing one or more persons using a smartphone inspires others to pick up their smartphones in turn.

Almost half of the 103 participants in the study checked their phones after someone nearby did within 30 seconds of noticing that person’s smartphone behavior, which the researchers called a “mimicry” response, in which one person’s behavior inspires similar behavior in another person.

To conduct the study, the researchers observed people going about their days — at waiting rooms, in parks, at restaurants. During observation, they’d note which people were “triggers” who inspired others to check their phones and which were “observers” who mimicked that behavior.

The researchers found that almost 50% of observers checked their phones after triggers looked at their screens, compared to fewer than 5% when the trigger did not check his or her phone.

They called the phone-checking a “spontaneous mimicry response,” which they noted occurred with greater frequency in the morning compared to night.

“Understanding the ethological mechanisms of the use of smartphones at everyday-social scale could unveil the processes at the basis of the widespread/increasing use of these devices at a large scale,” the researchers concluded.

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