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Selfishness? There’s an App for That

Do cellphones make people selfish?  If you’ve ever had to shush a garrulous iPhone user in the seat next to you at the movie theater, the answer may seem obvious.   And now, a new study confirms our phone fears. According to researchers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, people are less likely to exhibit...

Photo by William Albert Allard

Do cellphones make people selfish?  If you’ve ever had to shush a garrulous iPhone user in the seat next to you at the movie theater, the answer may seem obvious.   And now, a new study confirms our phone fears. According to researchers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, people are less likely to exhibit “prosocial behavior”–that is, to act in a way that benefits others–after just moments with a cellphone in their hands. Subjects distracted by the phones were less likely than phone-free people to volunteer for community service projects or participate in games that would benefit charity.

Why does this happen? According to the study’s authors, “The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” Essentially, the phone replaces a person’s need to connect with others or engage in good works. Perhaps it is time for all of us to put our cellphone use on hold.

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Meet the Author

Michael Jourdan
Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.