Self and other ratings of problematic smartphone use: The role of personality and relationship type
Despite initial evidence to the contrary, there is a debate as to whether problematic smartphone use is a real and objective psychological construct or simply the latest version of technology-induced ‘moral panic’. A common argument used to debunk the idea of problematic smartphone use and related technologies is that society has a long history of being overly concerned with technological advances negatively impacting health and wellbeing. From the introduction of the telephone in the late 1800s, to radio, television, video games, computers, and now smartphones, society has been quick to condemn new technology as addictive, intrusive, and damaging to societal wellbeing. In retrospect most fears were unfounded, although at least some concerns about technology leading to sedentary lifestyles and obesity appear to be justified. One way that we can try to work out whether problematic smartphone use is a genuine psychological construct or not is to use other-rater data alongside the usual self-reported data.
A total of 1,073 Australian young adults participated in the survey which included personality and problematic smartphone measures. Each person then invited between 1 and 5 people who know them well to complete the same set of questions, but answering them about the person that invited them. We then looked at the similarity between the person’s own ratings of their personality and smartphone use compared to the combined other-raters scores for that person. Overall, the other-raters tended to rate the target person’s problematic smartphone use lower than the person did about themselves, however the overall pattern of results suggested that other people can accurately assess problematic behaviours in a person they know well. This is important because it means that problematic smartphone use is a somewhat objectively observable construct, and not just something that ‘is in people’s heads’. Measuring any psychological construct is in itself inherently difficult, but this research has helped separate the ideas around whether problematic smartphone use is a real issue that people experience versus a generalised belief that all new technology is somehow bad for us. So, if you feel like you have a problematic relationship with your phone, we believe you!