Why College Students Are Addicted to Smartphones

Smartphone addiction may be a coping mechanism by college students to relieve negative emotions and experiences in daily life.

What Is Smartphone Addiction?


As a type of technological addiction, mobile phone addiction can be conceptualized as the excessive and compulsive use of mobile phones, which is associated with negative consequences in various social, behavioral, and affective aspects.


Mobile phone addiction is characterized by the key symptoms of obsessive thoughts about mobile phones (craving), spending more and more time on mobile phones in spite of high economic costs (tolerance), experiencing anxiety when mobile phones are unavailable (withdrawal), and inability to control or cease mobile phone use and no longer having fun in other activities that used to be enjoyable.


Mobile phone addiction is a risk factor not only for health hazards such as sleep disturbance, but also for social maladjustment such as poor academic performance, perceived stress, and interpersonal problems. All these stressors may lead to worry and rumination, which further relates to anxiety and depression in adolescents.


Life Stress and Smartphone Addiction


When an individual experiences internal or external stress, Internet addiction can be induced. Providing a distraction from stressful experiences, this addiction serves as a coping mechanism for stress.


The impulsive behaviors of people with Internet addiction can be considered a reward that reduces emotional tension and facilitates future behavior. In other words, Internet addiction is converted into a strategy for alleviating daily pain and tension.


This argument has been verified by empirical studies, which contend that Internet addiction is accompanied by other potential risk factors, such as alcoholism, dissatisfaction with one’s family, and recent experiences of stressful events.


Consequently, mobile phone users may employ smartphone addiction to relieve negative emotions and experiences caused by pain and tension in daily life.


Which Life Stress Predicts Smartphone Addiction?


A group of researchers interviewed 387 college students to find out how smartphone addiction relates to life stress such as family stress, emotional stress, interpersonal relationship stress and academic stress.


They found that family stress and emotional stress positively predicted smartphone addiction. To distance themselves from family and emotional stresses, college students tend to develop an addiction to mobile phones to alleviate the negative emotions and experiences caused by the pain and tension they experience in their family and emotional lives.


In terms of academic stress, the researchers asked students about their academic problems and subsequent influences, with questions such as “My academic performance has been affected by my spending excessive amount of time using my mobile phone.”


Researchers did not identify significantly positive correlations between academic stress, interpersonal relationship stress, and smartphone addiction. Significantly positive correlations were not found because academic stress, interpersonal relationship stress, and smartphone addiction were mediated by social self-efficacy.


Social self-efficacy involves maintenance of social relationships, cooperation, and management of various types of interpersonal conflicts. Social self-efficacy is measured by how well students interact socially with their peers or teachers.

Sources consulted:

Chiu, Shao-I. “The relationship between life stress and smartphone addiction on taiwanese university student: A mediation model of learning self-Efficacy and social self-Efficacy.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 34, 2014, pp. 49–57.

Yang, Xiujuan, et al. “Mobile Phone Addiction and Adolescents’ Anxiety and Depression:

The Moderating Role of Mindfulness.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 28, 2019, pp. 822–830.

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