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What is "Phubbing" and how does it affect our relationships?

July 14, 2024

Since the boom of smartphones in the middle of the last decade, the presence of these devices in our lives has only grown exponentially.

The percentage of inhabitants of our planet who is a user of a mobile phone is 51% , that is, no less than 3.790 million people. This percentage of users of smartphone it rises, for example, in Spain up to 80% of the adult population. Regarding the social use of the telephone, 42% access networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp Twitter or Instagram on a regular basis in order to interact with others. In light of these data (Fernández, 2016), we can assume that the way we relate to each other is in a process of constant change.

"With their constant beeps, bells, vibrations and whistles, the phones are like a capricious child that will not behave well until he or she gets what they want. The desire of our phones is to be constantly attended. "(Roberts and David (2016)

What is phubbing and why is it normalizing?

Due to the need to describe a social phenomenon that did not exist many years ago, the Australian Macquaire dictionary developed during 2012 a campaign around the world dedicated to familiarize the population with the word phubbing (Pathak, 2013). Combination of words phone (phone) and snubbing (make a disdain), this term refers to the fact, in a social meeting, ignore someone while paying attention to the mobile phone instead of talking to that person face to face .

This behavior, certainly harmful in any social interaction, is becoming common. Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas (2016), have recently investigated the psychological causes and consequences of this behavior. These authors discovered that, as could be predicted intuitively, one of the causes that leads us to deliberately ignore the person we are with is the addiction to the mobile phone .

Phubbing and addiction to smartphones

Among the factors that predict addiction to the mobile phone, and therefore phubbing, is the Internet addiction and its excessive use, which is closely related to other non-chemical addictions such as gambling addiction.

As a predictor of Internet and smartphone addiction, these researchers at the University of Kent found that an influencing factor was the user's self-control.. A lower self-control, more likelihood of addiction to the Internet, to the smartphone and, therefore, more probability of phubbing . A last important factor that was identified was the fear and concern of being left out of the events, events and conversations that are taking place in the social circle, causing a problematic use of the mobile phone.

The behavior of phubbing, the authors argue, is becoming normal and acceptable due to what is conceptualized in social psychology as "reciprocity". Repeatedly ignoring other people when they are watching the mobile causes others, intentionally or not, to return this social action.

Even though it is not pleasant for anyone to be ignored, the papers are usually exchanged throughout different social interactions , being one "ignorant" in some occasions and ignored in others. Because social learning is basic in the acquisition of new behaviors, this exchange, according to the researchers, leads us to assume the false consensus that this way of acting is acceptable and even normal. The authors confirmed this finding that those people who ignored more and those who used to be more ignored saw these behaviors as something more socially accepted.

How does phubbing affect our close relationships?

The mere presence (visible) of a mobile phone on the table can reduce the perception of closeness, trust and quality of conversation between two people, this effect being more pronounced when discussing emotionally relevant issues (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2013).

About 70% of the participants in a study on the influence of technologies on relationships (McDaniel and Coyne, 2016), stated that computers or smartphones interfered in some way in their coexistence . The higher the frequency of interference of the technologies, the greater the impact on their well-being (less satisfaction with the relationship, with life in general and more depressive symptoms).

Therefore, this behavior of phubbing is not reduced to sporadic encounters between friends, colleagues or classmates, etc.but it can directly affect the structure of our most intimate relationships and have some influence on our quality of life.

The phubbing in couple relationships

James Roberts and Meredith David (2016), from Baylor University, decided to study the effects of partner phubbing or p-phubbing, that is, interruptions to look at the mobile during a conversation while in the presence of the sentimental partner. Due to the widespread presence of these smartphones, as mentioned above, it is highly likely that interruptions occur frequently in people who share a large amount of time, such as a marriage or any couple.

Due to the attachment needs of the human being, these authors hypothesize that for a quality relationship to occur, the mere presence of the couple is not enough, but that certain affective exchanges must be given that must be reciprocal. These exchanges, as the use and presence of smartphones progresses, may be diminished. Thus, Due to interruptions caused by p-phubbing, the need for attachment and attention may not be met in the same way they are without the interference of certain technologies.

Conflicts aggravated by phubbing

Regarding the results of the study by James Roberts and Meredith David (2016), as predicted, the higher the frequency of phubbing, the greater the number of conflicts related to the use of mobile .

The phubbing and the conflicts with respect to the mobile phone were good predictors of the quality of the relationships, that is, when there were numerous conflicts and the couples performed phubbing, the quality of the relationship decreased significantly. In addition, the quality of the relationship being a factor that influences the quality of life, it could be said that interrupting our face-to-face relationships by using the mobile phone can have a negative impact on our long-term well-being. This decrease in the quality of life can cause that, indirectly, the phubbing creates a propitious context for the appearance of depressive symptoms in a progressive way.

It is important to note that in couples who interrupted their relationship more frequently due to the cell phone, the number of conflicts was even greater in those in which one of the members had an insecure attachment style , compared to the secure attachment style. People with an insecure attachment style, related to cold affective relationships and with a greater desire to control their partner, would therefore be more affected by the scorn provoked by their peer.


Bearing in mind that, currently, the percentage of divorces regarding marriages is 50% (without taking into account the separations of the rest of couples), the empirical evidence provided by this type of studies should be useful to make us aware of our acts

This awareness does not imply that in order to live a fruitful relationship we should isolate ourselves from the benefits brought by new technologies, but make a correct use of them. Just as a person can subjugate his partner exerting excessive control over it and preventing, for example, attending meetings with friends or friends, a mobile phone (something inert) can deprive us of moments with our loved ones. Taking advantage of our "powerful" frontal lobe we must take the reins of our relationships and be able to guide our lives towards the best quality of life possible. Of little use living in an online world if we disconnect from what is truly important.

Bibliographic references:

  • Chotpitayasunondh, V., & Douglas, K. M. (2016). How «phubbing» becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 9-18.
  • Fernández, S. (2016). Spain, smartphone territory. [online]
  • McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). "Technoference": The interference of technology in relationships and relationships for women's personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5 (1), 85.
  • Pathak, S. (2013). McCann Melbourne Made Up to Word to Sell to Print Dictionary. [online]
  • Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2013). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influence face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30 (3), 237-246.
  • Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partnership and relationship between romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141.

‘Phubbing’ Is Hurting Your Relationships: Here’s What It Is | TIME (July 2024).

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