Smartphones are causing some users to experience heightened anxiety when used for social interactions, new research from Britain shows. The distress may stem from the persistent need many users feel to repeatedly review and immediately respond to any incoming email, text, tweet, or alert. Such compulsive behavior has lead researchers to suggest that the mushrooming use of smartphones to sustain social connections, friendships, and personal networks may be associated with increased stress.

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Research conducted by British psychologist Richard Balding, MSc, of the University of Worcester, England and his colleagues, was presented at a conference of the British Psychological Society in Chester, England on January 12, 2012.

Surprisingly, the investigators found that the devices, including iPhones, Blackberries, and Androids, did not result in a rise in stress levels when used for professional purposes. Instead, the added stress was found in social settings. The research results revealed that despite the ability of the phones to provide instant connections with friends and family, the handheld gadgets were actually contributing to stress, rather than alleviating it, when used to manage personal contacts.

More than 100 people were recruited to participate in Balding's study, responding to questions about their phone usage in surveys and completing a psychometric stress test. The participants included university students, retail industry employees and government workers.

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The findings revealed that the multi-purpose phones were initially utilized to manage work obligations, but ultimately became tools to control social networks. As that type of usage increased, so did the stress levels. The results also showed that 37 percent of adults and 60 percent of teenagers considered themselves addicted to their phones.

Additionally, those reporting the greatest increases in anxiety stated that they experienced phantom vibrations of new incoming messages even when no such alerts actually arrived. Many also reported feeling unhappy or stressed when their phones were turned off or when they did not receive any new messages.

As noted by other researchers not involved in the study, more research is necessary before a cause-and-effect relationship can be confirmed. It may be that people who are already stressed are more prone to repeatedly check their devices and always keep them turned on. On the other hand, many people are able to moderate smartphone usage to ensure it is helpful, time saving, convenient, and enjoyable, rather than a source of stress, tension and disappointment.

American Smartphone Usage is High and Growing

Nevertheless, the study, which is considered preliminary as it has not yet been published in a scientific journal, leads investigators to suggest that employers should be aware of the added stress and negative impact smartphones may have on their employees.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-third of American adults have a smartphone, with an overwhelming majority using the devices to access emails or to search the internet daily. Many people also use their phones to play games, watch videos through such sites as YouTube, and manage social networks via Facebook. With the rapid influx of new apps introduced to the public, and the devices' ability to provide constant information, instant news, and ongoing entertainment, smartphones usage is expected to continue proliferating rapidly.