Screening for attention: Phone snubbing links with various mental issues

There’s a word for this behaviour phone snubbing or phubbing and the sheer ordinariness of it today has become a cause of concern, both for the phubber and the phubbee.

Published: 08th January 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th January 2023 03:13 PM   |  A+A-


For representational purposes

Express News Service

We all know that person. We’ve all been that person. Walking through office corridors, waiting for 
a cab, sitting at a dining table, at a social do, even while conversing with someone standing in front of one’s nose, we’ve ignored people in favour of our phones. There’s a word for this behaviour phone snubbing or phubbing and the sheer ordinariness of it today has become a cause of concern, both for the phubber and the phubbee.

What’s behind it?

The compulsive need to check one’s phone (we touch our phones an average of 2,617 times a day, according to a study by research firm Dscout) may just be a rotten habit or the reinforcement of an underlying psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety.

A 2021 study conducted by the University of Georgia, US, seconds this. It showed how snubbing friends to look at a phone is linked to various mental health issues. Personality traits such as neuroticism also influence phubbing behaviour, according to the study.

“Phone snubbing is the ultimate form of escapism. You take leave from the real world for the safety and comfort of the reel world where you put away difficult situations or people, as a coping mechanism. But the truth is that negative feelings never just disappear; and phone snubbing can certainly not make troubles go away,” says Gurugram-based psychotherapist Shalini Pawa Vij.

The addictive nature of social media makes things worse, with algorithms being manipulative in design. They monitor your every move and throw up more of the content you’ve been engaging with, making the experience ineluctable. As a result, not just health, but relationships suffer too. Those with anxious attachment styles are more susceptible to cell phone-related quarrelling, according to a study published in ScienceDirect. This form of partner phubbing, also referred to as Pphubbing was found to cause relationship dissatisfaction.

“It may create feelings of exclusion and may even impact intimacy. The relationship hits troubled waters when a partner’s sense of belongingness gets eroded and that’s exactly what something as innocuous as phone snubbing is capable of doing,” says Vij. Badly affected are children too who take constant snubbing by a parent as a sign of rejection. At the workplace, phubbing can make colleagues feel less important. 

Best way ahead

For a phubbee: Open communication about how you feel when phubbed will help you set clear boundaries in a relationship. If you feel the habit is compulsive, you may want to suggest professional help to your partner. If you’re a parent concerned about a child’s snubbing habit, you may want to establish strong ground rules regarding phone usage. 

For a phubber: Turn on the greyscale on your smartphone. This will remove the colour from the shiny icons and make the screen appear dull. You’ll find this in the 'settings' section of your device. Wean off the phone by turning off promotional notifications in addition to those from social networks. You can use a smart speaker to get basic tasks done such as turning on music or a podcast or answering basic questions.

This will reduce your psychical engagement with the device. Another important step is to reflect on where the habit is germinating from and whether something needs to be addressed within. If you still get triggered by something and have an uncontrollable urge to reach out for your phone, pause and write down how you feel or voice record it. Phubbing is a learned behaviour. You can unlearn it too.


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