Reasons You Can’t Leave Your iPhone: #74

Most people get made fun of by their friends for being a little too attached to a certain object. (For example, I carry around  a limited edition Jan. 1972 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology  at all times. Ok, not really, but I wish I did.) The thing is, these attachments are not completely crazy because objects can act as useful short term substitutes when it comes to fulfilling psychological needs.  Case in point, a new study by Lucas Keefer and his colleagues at the University of Kansas that shows when people close to us are unreliable, we become more attached to objects.

Participants primed with close others’, but not strangers’, unreliability reported increased attachment to belongings (Study 1), and this effect was mediated by feelings of attachment anxiety (concern over close others’ availability), but not attachment avoidance (avoiding emotional dependence; Study 2), suggesting that object attachment compensates for the perception that close others are unreliable rather than consistently rejecting.

In a third study subjects were actually forced to give up their cell phones, and those primed with uncertainty about their relationships showed more separation anxiety and motivation to reunite with their phone.

One neat thing about the study is that it shows the extent of our psychological evolution. The ability to fulfill a need with human interaction or an inanimate object is no easy feat, and it likely took our brains a good part of human history to learn this trick.

Although the study focuses on attachment anxiety,  I think our ubiquitous concern with self-worth could also be part of the object-attachment story. When other people cause you to consider them unreliable, that’s an attack on you. After all, if you were more awesome they would never disappoint you with their unreliability. As a consequence of this ego downgrade, we must find a way to enhance our self-worth, and one method could be making our valuable possessions more salient.
Keefer, L., Landau, M., Rothschild, Z., & Sullivan, D. (2012). Attachment to Objects as Compensation for Close Others’ Perceived Unreliability Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.007

5 Responses to Reasons You Can’t Leave Your iPhone: #74

  1. Jim Birch says:

    If you don’t mind me asking, which article are you attached to in Journal of Experimental Psychology?

  2. tommy wilson says:

    Yes i know many people you are attached to there iphones. In the study they need could use people they do not know and see how they do with there attachments. When talking about self worth you can also relate stress in with being to reliable on you r phone. As one who is at school or work where they are restricted from there phones could it possibly cause depression?

  3. sara brodribb says:

    I will agree it makes my life much less stressful that my phone can sit on my desk at work, so I don’t feel that I have to sneak to look at it when my kids get home from school. I think accessability to people via text message is another reason people are attached to their phones. This could apply to iPhones or any other type of phone that gives comparable access. I don’t think using your phone and it’s applications are a bad thing, but when you cannot put your phone down without going into a panic attack for fear of missing a call, text, facebook post or tweet–then there is most definitely a problem. If your phone is more reliable then a person in your life, that is also a problem that may need to be addressed then the usage of any phone. I keep track of my phone because they are expensive to replace and there is necessary information on my phone, does this mean that my self-worth is low? I don’t think so.

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