If you’ve fallen victim to “phantom phone alerts,” the mysterious phenomenon where you think your phone is buzzing but it isn’t, it may be time to take a tech break. Experiencing the nonexistent vibrations could be an indicator that you are pathologically reliant on your cell phone, according to a new study.
Research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that those who excessively used their phones were more likely to feel phantom “buzzes” than those who used phones more sparingly.
The goal of the study was to measure a tangible symptom technology addiction with an eye toward adding device dependency into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM-5, which is the standard criteria or classification of mental health conditions outlined by the American Psychiatric Association).
A physical manifestation is an important component of defining an addiction, according to Daniel Kruger, lead author and a scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. A hallmark sign of addiction is when people are hyperaware of the item and react accordingly, Kruger said. In the case of smartphones, this may mean people think they’re hearing their phone alert and then feel compelled (or have an excuse) to check it.
“This study provides some real insight and maybe some evidence that people can have a real dependency on cell phone use,” he said in a statement.
Kruger and his team analyzed surveys and assessments submitted by more than 700 undergraduate students. The questionnaires measured everything from personality traits, like conscientiousness and neuroticism, to whether or not participants experience anxiety when disconnected from their device.
Unsurprisingly, those who felt anxious away from their phones (in other words, dependent on them) experienced more phantom notifications. Additionally, the authors found those who ranked high in neuroticism from the assessment were more likely to have a cell phone dependency. Women and younger individuals also tended to be more reliant on their devices.
Previous research on cell phone dependence has found that it may be linked with higher rates of mental health disorders. And related scientific investigation on compulsive internet use has found similar results: A 2016 study showed it can lead to issues like depression and anxiety. Other research suggests too much tech can lead to weight gain, feelings of isolation and even damage relationships.
Ultimately, Kruger hopes their findings alert people to the very real threat of device dependency.
“Certainly, it pushes in the direction of saying, ‘Hey, whether you want to call it dependency or addiction, it’s real, it’s important, and we should be paying attention to this,’” he said.
Think you might have this problem? Check out this list of ways to undo the damage.