Anxiety Linked With Increased Cell-Phone Dependence, Abuse

Marlene Busko

March 10, 2008

March 10, 2008 (Savannah, Georgia) — In a normative sample of 183 individuals, those with greater self-reported anxiety also had greater cell-phone dependence and abuse scores, according to a study by Lisa J. Merlo, PhD, and Amanda M. Stone, from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, which was presented as a poster here at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America 28th Annual Meeting.

"Individuals who suffer from an anxiety disorder may benefit from a clinical assessment to rule out cell-phone abuse or dependence," the researchers conclude.

The anxiety subscales on the 2 study measures correlated very strongly both with cell-phone dependence symptoms and cell-phone abuse symptoms, Dr. Merlo told Medscape Psychiatry. "Maybe it's actually a problem, particularly in the sample of anxious patients — something to look out for," she added.

As cell phones and personal digital assistants become more common, individuals may experience greater pressure to remain connected or available to others, the researchers write. Patients might manifest symptoms of problematic attachment to these technologies or show symptoms of "cell-phone addiction."

Many patients seen clinically seem to use their cell phones to manage their mental health symptoms, said Dr. Melo. "You might see a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD] who is using the phone to check things, or you might see a person with social phobia who is using the phone to avoid interaction with people."

The investigators sought to determine whether there was a correlation between anxiety symptoms and "cell-phone dependence."

They enrolled 183 individuals (66.1% female) aged 18 to 75 years (mean age, 30.4 ± 14.5 years) into the study. The study subjects had owned a cell-phone for an average of 7.2 ± 3.8 years (range, 0 to 20 years), and about 36% of them were students.

They completed self-report measures of cell-phone addiction and anxiety.

Cell-phone addiction was measured using a Cellular Technologies Addiction Scale (CTAS) questionnaire, which asks people to rate 38 items from 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). This questionnaire comprises 2 subscales: 24 questions rating cellular-technology dependence and 14 questions rating cellular-technology abuse.

Items in the cell-phone dependence subscale include statements such as:

  • "I have a hard time relaxing if my cell-phone signal does not have good signal strength."

  • "I think I might spend too much time on my cell phone."

  • "I check to make sure my phone is on if I have not recently received a call."

Anxiety was measured using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) trait anxiety subscale and the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP-NEO) anxiety subscale.

Anxious Individuals, Compulsive Phone Users

CTAS scores (measuring dependence) ranged from 26 to 117 (mean, 62.6 ± 18.5) and were normally distributed. This suggests that the tendency to display cell-phone dependence symptoms (eg, greater comfort when able to use the phone, compulsion to spend more time on the phone than desired, and emotional attachment to the phone) varies within the general population and can be measured via self-report.

Most participants did not report significant symptoms of cell-phone abuse (experiencing work, school, relationship, or financial problems due to cell-phone use, etc.)

Self-reported anxiety, however, significantly correlated with cell-phone dependence scores and cell-phone abuse scores.

Future research should examine the mechanisms by which cell-phone addiction contributes to or is exacerbated by anxiety symptoms, the researchers write.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America 28th Annual Meeting: Poster 55. March 6-9, 2007.


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