ArticlePDF Available

There's Probably an App For This: How We Identified a Relationship Between Cell Phone Use, Academic Performance, Anxiety and Happiness

May 26, 2014
academic performance, c ell
phone use, anxiety, happiness
© Lepp et al. This article is
distributed under the terms of
the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted us e and
redistribution provided that the
original author and source ar e
We like to say that the idea for this research was hatched over the grill at a backyard
barbeque. And that's the truth. It was. We were discussing the widespread use of cell
phones across our college campus. We had observed students using phones in every
conceivable setting and circumstance - the classroom, the library, the recreation center, on
sidewalks, on benches, in cars, in the grass, and under the trees. Of course, we have all
seen this. We've probably seen it in ourselves. It is nothing novel anymore. But at the heart
of our conversation was the idea that more often than not, the cell phone users were sitting
or standing still. We also saw this at the barbeque with our own children if someone tossed
them an iPhone. That led us to this hypothesis: despite its inherent mobility, cell phone use
disrupts physical activity, encourages sedentary behavior and consequently reduces
cardiorespiratory fitness. We developed a study to test this and the findings supported the
hypothesized relationships (Lepp et al. 2013). As part of that study, we interviewed 49
college students about their cell phone use. We asked a variety of questions related to the
hypothesis, but we also asked students to describe their cell phone use and how cell phone
use makes them feel. Of course, many students described feeling happy or connected when
using the phone; but to our surprise, an equal number of students described feeling anxious,
stressed, annoyed, irritated and regretful. As we looked more closely at the data, it
appeared that the students who reported these negative feelings were the students who
used the phone the most. Students also reported being distracted by the phone when
studying and using the phone in class. This did not surprise us. However, we w ere intrigued
when once again we noticed that these behaviors appeared more frequently among
students with the greatest cell phone use. Considering this new information, we
hypothesized that cell phone use would be negatively associated with academic
performance, positively associated with anxiety, and that together these relationships would
link increased cell phone use with decreased happiness (Lepp, Barkley, and Karpinski 2014).
Testing this hypothesis led to the article we w ill discuss below. Thus, it too can be traced,
albeit circuitously, to that backyard barbeque.
Since very little research has examined these issues, we felt that assessing the
hypothesized relationships would make a nice contribution to the extant cell phone literature.
We created a survey with the intent of administering it to 500 undergraduate students. The
survey included a validated measure of anxiety, a validated measure of happiness
(subjective well-being), a self-report measure of cell phone use which we had previously
There's Probably an App For This: How We
Identified a Relationship Between Cell Phone
Use, Academic Performance, Anxiety and
Lepp , Andrew, Jacob E. Barkley, and Aryn C. Karp inski. 201 4. "The relatio nship
betwee n cell ph one u se, academi c performan ce, anxie ty, and Satisfaction with
Life in col lege students." Compu ters in Huma n Behavior no. 31 (0):343-35 0. doi:
1. Kent Sta te University, College o f Edu cat ion, Hea lth a nd Hu man S ervices, Kent, OH, 442 42-00 0, U.S.A.
1 1 1
et al The Winnower
MAY 22 2014 1
developed and published, and lastly a consent form which would give us permission to
access participants' official academic records. This was necessary as participants' actual,
cumulative grade point average (GPA) would be our measure of academic performance.
After gaining approval from the university's Internal Review Board (IRB) as well as the
university Registrar, we w ere ready to collect data. This was the tricky part. IRB approval
required that we carefully explain to each participant how we would access their academic
records and how we would keep that information confidential and anonymous. To do this,
we needed help from faculty with no direct stake in the project. First, we identified a mix of
large classes across campus likely to yield a final sample representative of the larger student
body - that is to say, a sample with a wide array of majors and evenly distributed by class
standing. Second, we contacted the professors for each class, explained the project and
requested thirty minutes of their class time in order to administer the survey. This was a bit
awkward since we had nothing to immediately offer in return, only a promise to repay the
favor in the future. As it turned out, each of the professors we contacted was interested in
the study and freely gave their class time. For this we are very thankful - there is a generous
and supportive faculty here at Kent State University and we are privileged to be a part of it.
What happened next was relatively easy in comparison to some of our other projects. After
a dedicated graduate assistant entered the data into a spreadsheet, a path analysis
revealed that each of the hypothesized relationships were significant and in the hypothesized
direction. Furthermore, all of the fit indices suggested a very good model. Thus, there was
no need to develop and test alternatives. The central finding was this: cell phone use was
negatively related to GPA and positively related to anxiety. Following this, GPA w as positively
related to happiness while anxiety was negatively related to happiness. Thus, for the
population studied, high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher
anxiety, and diminished happiness relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.
We carefully prepared a manuscript highlighting previous research and presenting our own
findings. We submitted it to the journal Computers in Human Behavior. This was our first
choice because much of the research we reviewed had been published there, the journal is
highly respected, and it has a well-developed online presence. The journal's reviewers and
editors provided positive feedback and helpful comments for fine tuning the manuscript. It
was accepted with only minor revisions and soon after published online.
Along with the online publication, Kent State University issued a press release highlighting our
findings. Within an hour of the press release our phones began ringing. First it was local
media and by day's end we had a call from TIME magazine. TIME placed a brief article online
within 24 hours. In England, the Daily Mail and Guardian soon followed. Then the tweets
began. In all, the article stayed in the news for nearly a month and made its way to TV and
radio as well. We had a sense this would be of interest to the public but the magnitude of
coverage was surprising. To explain this media interest we need only consider the ubiquity of
the cell phone. The majority of adults and an increasing number of adolescents and children
carry one. Furthermore, with their expanding functionality and Internet connectedness, cell
phones have transcended their utilitarian purpose of two-way communication and have
entered the realm of pop culture. Cell phones are now marketed as lifestyle enhancers and
status symbols. Nevertheless, there is a sense among some that we have become too
dependent on the devices (Gibson 2011). Or a sense that after a point, cell phone use may
no longer be beneficial. There are now reports of people texting in their sleep (Roberts
2013), experiencing nomophobia (Kung 2012), using the phone as a source of personal
identity (Foley, Holzman, and Wearing 2007), and experiencing the phone ringing when it is
not (Hu 2013). Add to this our research linking cell phone use with decreased academic
performance, increased anxiety and reduced happiness and it raised a red flag. To be clear,
our research identifies relationships, not causality. The media was quite vigilant about
highlighting this distinction. Even so, it is apparent that the findings hit a nerve and perhaps
inspired a brief and critical reflection on our society's cell phone infatuation - a reflection
which no doubt was soon interrupted by a text, tweet, Facebook update, or impulse to
conquer the next level of Candy Crush Saga.
The public was extremely receptive to this research. It does make for intriguing discussion
and debate. Yet there were negative comments from the public as well. These voices were
accusing us of spending government money to research the obvious. In response: this study
was not funded, we never requested funding, and it cost us nothing other than our own time
and effort. That said, if you are reading this and happen to be a reviewer for the National
et al The Winnower
MAY 22 2014 2
Institute of Health - we have some great ideas for expanding this research but they will
require your financial assistance.
Foley, Carmel, Caryn Holzman, and Stephen Wearing. 2007. "Moving Beyond Conspicuous
Leisure Consumption: Adolescent Women, Mobile Phones and Public Space."
Leisure Studies
no. 26 (2):179-192. doi: 10.1080/02614360500418555.
Gibson, E.
Smartphone dependency: a growing obsession with gadgets.
201 1. Available
from /07/Smartphone-
Hu, E.
Phantom Phone Vibrations: So Common They've Changed Our Brains?
201 3. Available
from http://www 044/phantom-phone-
Kung, V. .
Rise of 'nomophobia': More people fear loss of mobile contact.
201 2. Available
from http://www /06/tech/mobile/nomophobia-mobile-
Lepp, Andrew, Jacob E. Barkley, and Aryn C. Karpinski. 2014. "The relationship between cell
phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students."
Computers in Human Behavior
no. 31 (0):343-35 0. doi: 10.1 016/j.chb.2013.10.049.
Lepp, Andrew, Jacob Barkley, Gabriel Sanders, Michael Rebold, and Peter Gates. 2 013. "The
relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and cardiorespiratory
fitness in a sample of U.S. college students."
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and
Physical Activity
no. 10 (1):79. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-10-79.
Roberts, K.
Sleeptexting Is the New Sleepwalking.
201 3. Available from
sleepwalking/2805 91/
et al The Winnower
MAY 22 2014 3
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
In this paper we explore mobile phones as a form of fashion accessory for young women in contemporary culture and the possible value of such fashionable items as a source of identity and self‐worth. Despite reliance on the usual stultifying stereotypes produced by marketeers to promote mobile phones, we explore the possibility that increased access to public space generates for adolescent girls alternative choices of leisure experiences and possibilities of multiple enriching identities. The findings suggest that mobile phone use can impart a sense of self‐confidence, sexuality and autonomy which defies the male gaze in public spaces and may allow adolescent women to reject traditional images of femininity at a formative stage in the life course and take steps to a further array of leisure choices. It may only be a temporary image that assists a sense of self at a vulnerable time in life, or it may infiltrate other aspects of subjectivity and assist an ongoing sense of self‐confidence. However, this particular leisure activity can be seen as enabling, allowing entry to an arena, that of public space, that has hitherto been limited by the male gaze and other stereotypes of adolescent women. Through in‐depth interviews with teenage mobile phone users and a review of the literature we have examined the success that this form of technology has had with this social group.
Full-text available
Today's cell phones increase opportunities for activities traditionally defined as sedentary behaviors (e.g., surfing the internet, playing video games). People who participate in large amounts of sedentary behaviors, relative to those who do not, tend to be less physically active, less physically fit, and at greater risk for health problems. However, cell phone use does not have to be a sedentary behavior as these devices are portable. It can occur while standing or during mild-to-moderate intensity physical activity. Thus, the relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and physical fitness is unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate these relationships among a sample of healthy college students. Participants were first interviewed about their physical activity behavior and cell phone use. Then body composition was assessed and the validated self-efficacy survey for exercise behaviors completed. This was followed by a progressive exercise test on a treadmill to exhaustion. Peak oxygen consumption (VO2 peak) during exercise was used to measure cardiorespiratory fitness. Hierarchical regression was used to assess the relationship between cell phone use and cardiorespiratory fitness after controlling for sex, self-efficacy, and percent body fat. Interview data was transcribed, coded, and Chi-square analysis was used to compare the responses of low and high frequency cell phone users. Cell phone use was significantly (p=0.047) and negatively (ß= -0.25) related to cardio respiratory fitness independent of sex, self-efficacy, and percent fat which were also significant predictors (p<0.05). Interview data offered several possible explanations for this relationship. First, high frequency users were more likely than low frequency users to report forgoing opportunities for physical activity in order to use their cell phones for sedentary behaviors. Second, low frequency users were more likely to report being connected to active peer groups through their cell phones and to cite this as a motivation for physical activity. Third, high levels of cell phone use indicated a broader pattern of sedentary behaviors apart from cell phone use, such as watching television. Cell phone use, like traditional sedentary behaviors, may disrupt physical activity and reduce cardiorespiratory fitness.
Smartphone dependency: a growing obsession with gadgets
  • E Gibson
Gibson, E. Smartphone dependency: a growing obsession with gadgets. 2011. Available from
Phantom Phone Vibrations: So Common They've Changed Our Brains?
  • E Hu
Hu, E. Phantom Phone Vibrations: So Common They've Changed Our Brains? 2013. Available from
Rise of 'nomophobia': More people fear loss of mobile contact
  • V Kung
Kung, V.. Rise of 'nomophobia': More people fear loss of mobile contact. 2012. Available from
Sleeptexting Is the New Sleepwalking
  • K Roberts