Full length article
My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner
phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners
James A. Roberts
, Meredith E. David
Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University, One Bear Place #98007, Waco, TX 76798, USA
Received 3 June 2015
Received in revised form
28 July 2015
Accepted 29 July 2015
Available online xxx
Partner phubbing (Pphubbing) can be best understood as the extent to which an individual uses or is
distracted by his/her cell phone while in the company of his/her relationship partner. The present study
is the ﬁrst to investigate the oft-occurring behavior of Pphubbing and its impact on relationship satis-
faction and personal well-being. In Study 1, a nine-item scale was developed to measure Pphubbing. The
scale was found to be highly reliable and valid. Study 2 assessed the study's proposed relationships
among a sample of 145 adults. Results suggest that Pphubbing's impact on relationship satisfaction is
mediated by conﬂict over cell phone use. One's attachment style was found to moderate the Pphubbing
ecell phone conﬂict relationship. Those with anxious attachment styles reported higher levels of cell
phone conﬂict than those with less anxious attachment styles. Importantly, Pphubbing was found to
indirectly impact depression through relationship satisfaction and ultimately life satisfaction. Given the
ever-increasing use of cell phones to communicate between romantic partners, the present research
offers insight into the process by which such use may impact relationship satisfaction and personal well-
being. Directions for future research are discussed.
©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Portmanteau (n) ea word whose form and meaning are derived
from a blending together of two or more distinct words.
Phubbing is a portmanteau of the words “phone”and “snub-
bing”. To be phubbed is to be snubbed by someone using their cell
phone when in your company. The “phubb”could be an interrup-
tion of your conversation with someone when he or she attends to
their cell phone or when you are in close proximity to another but
they use their cell phone instead of communicating with you.
Partner phubbing (Pphubbing) is when the above takes place when
in the company of your spouse or signiﬁcant other. The ubiquitous
nature of cell phones makes phubbing in general, or more specif-
ically, Pphubbing a near inevitable occurrence. In fact, seventy
percent of a sample of 143 females involved in romantic relation-
ships reported that cell phones “sometimes”,“often”,“very often,”
or “all the time”interfered in their interactions with their partners
(McDaniel &Coyne, 2014). Other studies have found Pphubbing to
be a common occurrence among romantic partners as well (Coyne,
Stockdale, Busby, Iverson, &Grant, 2011;Lenhart &Duggan, 2014).
The present research investigates whether Pphubbing impacts
relationship satisfaction and individual well-being. The potentially
mediating impact of cell phone conﬂict (Coyne et al. 2011) and
moderating effect of attachment style (Bowlby, 1969) are also
investigated to better understand the process by which Pphubbing
impacts relationship satisfaction amongst romantic partners.
1.1. Study contributions
The present study makes several important contributions to the
current literature. First, we have built and validated a measure of
Pphubbing. Valid and reliable scales are needed to advance our
understanding of how technology impacts relationships. As a
behavior that occurs regularly, Pphubbing should be at the fore-
front of any efforts to understand how cell phone use impacts
romantic relationships. A second contribution is that the present
study investigates how Pphubbing affects romantic relation-
shipsdan area of research that has received scant attention
(McDaniel &Coyne, 2014). A third contribution is that the present
study focuses on the impact of cell phone use on relationship
satisfaction. To date, previous research has combined many
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (J.A. Roberts), meredith_david@
baylor.edu (M.E. David).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Computers in Human Behavior
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh
0747-5632/©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141
different types of technology (television, computers, cell phones,
iPads, and tablets) when investigating the impact of technology use
on relationships obfuscating the unique role that any speciﬁc
technology might play (Padilla-Walker, Coyne, &Fraser, 2012). A
fourth contribution includes the potential mediating rule of cell
phone conﬂict in the Pphubbing erelationship satisfaction link.
Previous research suggests that it is not the time spent with tech-
nologies that impacts relationship satisfaction, but the conﬂict
created by the technology use (Coyne et al., 2012). The present
study also examines the potential moderating effect of attachment
style on the Pphubbingdcell phone conﬂict relationship. A ﬁnal
contribution is that the present study investigates the impact of
Pphubbing on personal well-being. Previous research suggests that
cell phone use and texting can increase reported stress (Beranuy,
Oberst, Carbonell, &Chamarro, 2009; Lepp, Barkley, &Karpinski,
2014) and unhealthy attachment to one's cell phone can increase
symptoms of depression (Gentile, Coyne, &Bricolo, 2012;Harwood,
Dooley, Scott, &Joiner, 2014). A sequential moderated-mediation
model (Preacher &Hayes, 2008) is used to examine the hypothe-
sized impact of Pphubbing on life satisfaction and depression.
2. Conceptual development and research hypotheses
2.1. Pphubbing and relationship satisfaction
Relationship and/or marital satisfaction may be best understood
as, “the degree to which spouses perceive that their partners meet
their needs and desires”(Peleg, 2008, p. 388). A stable and healthy
relationship is seen by many as the cornerstone of happy in-
dividuals and well-adjusted families (Coyne et al., 2011). Bradbury,
Fincham, and Beach (2000) identiﬁed interpersonal interactions
between partners as one of several important predictors of rela-
tionship satisfaction (Ahlstrom, Lundberg, Zabriske, Eggett, &
Given the increased use of cell phones to communicate with
others (Coyne et al., 2011; Hertlein, 2012; Luo &Tuney, 2015;
Lenhart &Duggan, 2014); it is of critical importance that increased
research attention be focused on the impact technology use has on
relationship satisfaction. With the ever-increasing presence and
use of cell phones, the boundaries that separate other interests and
partner relationships have become increasingly “blurred”(Chesley,
2005;Leggett &Rossouw, 2014).
For a relationship to be mutually satisfying, each partner must
be present for the other (Siegel, 2010). It is not enough to be merely
in each other's presence, but there must be a connection between
partners. Leggett and Rossouw (2014) deﬁne presence as “…a
process whereby we remain open and focused on the other without
external or internal distraction”(p. 49). Romantic partners feel
connected when they are present for each other.
It is clear from the above that distractions caused by Pphubbing
could undermine relationship satisfaction. The basic human needs
for control and attachment are at risk when an individual senses
that his or her partner is not present. In her book, Alone Together
(2011), Turkle argues that media use is separating people from one
another. In essence, partners may be physically together, but not
fully present for each other.
The displacement hypothesis (Coyne, Padilla-Walker, Fraser,
Fellows, &Day, 2014; Valkenburg &Peter, 2007) can be used to
explain the deleterious effects of Pphubbing on relationship satis-
faction. This theory suggests that time spent on media, such as cell
phones, may displace (or reduce) meaningful interactions with
one's spouse. For example, not being fully present during conver-
sations or shared time together because of cell phone-related dis-
tractions could lead to lower levels of satisfaction with one's
romantic partner. In a study of video game playing and
relationships, Coyne et al. (2012) claim that conﬂict over video
game use may not be because of the game playing itself but because
it usurps time available for activities that the partner may enjoy
In a large dyadic sample of couples (n ¼349) where either one
or both played Massively Multiplayers Online Role Playing Games
(MMORPG), playing such games was found to be negatively asso-
ciated with marital satisfaction (Ahlstrom et al., 2012). Between 70
and 75 percent of independent-gamer couples (where only one
spouse played MMORPGs) stated that gaming had negatively
impacted their marriages. The authors conclude that, “displacing
time spent with a signiﬁcant other may indeed be a source of
quarreling and marital conﬂict”(p. 16).
Even the mere presence of cell phones has been found to
undermine perceived closeness, connection, and conversation
quality. For example, Przybylski and Weinstein (2012) conducted
two experiments in which they manipulated the presence of cell
phones while a pair of subjects had either casual or meaningful
conversations. In the cell phone present condition, a “non-
descript”cell phone was placed on the top of a book on a nearby
desk outside of the direct visual ﬁeld of the subject. In the ﬁrst
experiment, subjects were asked to spend 10 min discussing an
interesting event during the past month. After this discussion,
subjects completed measures of relationship quality and
emotional sensitivity. Subjects in the experimental condition
reported lower relationship quality and less closeness with their
partners after their discussion. A second experiment manipu-
lated the content of the discussion (casual or meaningful) with
the same manipulation of the cell phone as present or absent.
Again, the presence of a mobile phone predicted lower rela-
tionship quality. An interaction between the presence of a cell
phone and conversation type was also uncovered. Relationship
quality and partner trust were only undermined when the con-
versation was meaningful. Perceived empathy was reduced when
a cell phone was present independent of conversation type. Thus,
it is clear that the presence of cell phones can interfere with
perceived relationship quality among couples (Przybylski &
Wein stein, 2012).
Based upon the theory and empirical results discussed above,
sufﬁcient evidence suggests that a partner's use of a cell phone
while in the company of his or her romantic partner may have a
negative effect on relationship satisfaction. Thus, we offer the
H1. As Pphubbing increases, reported levels of relationship satis-
faction will decrease.
2.2. The mediating impact of cell phone conﬂict
We posit that arguments over cell phone use (cell phone con-
ﬂict) will mediate the impact of Pphubbing on relationship satis-
faction. It is reasonable to assume that interruptions and distraction
caused by Pphubbing will create conﬂict in romantic relationships
(Servies, 2012). In a study of the impact of technology interference
on relationship well-being, McDaniel and Coyne (2014) found that
technology interference (Computers, TV, iPads, cell phones, etc.)
caused conﬂict over technology use within romantic relationships.
This conﬂict was then found to negatively impact relationship
satisfaction among the sample of female respondents.
The authors reason that when one partner allows technology to
interfere in time spent with their partner, it sends an implicit
message of that partner's priorities (McDaniel &Coyne, 2014).
Responding to a text message or checking social media during a
conversation with a romantic partner, or instead of interacting with
them at all, sends a message that interacting with one's romantic
J.A. Roberts, M.E. David / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141 135
partner is less important than what is available on his or her cell
Multitasking is a common way cell phone use interferes with
relationships. Humans have limited attention resources and cell
phone interference directs one's attention away from his or her
romantic partner (McDaniel &Coyne, 2014; Przybylski &
Weinstein, 2012). Attention is an important factor in healthy re-
lationships (Leggett &Rossouw, 2014). One cannot be fully present
in a relationship when distracted by his or her cell phone.
In a large scale survey of 1333 couples, Coyne et al. (2012) found
that men's time spent playing six different types of video games
was positively correlated with spousal conﬂict over such play. The
authors conclude that playing video games can lead to conﬂict in
romantic relationships. This conﬂict, the authors reasoned, was the
result of the “displacement of opportunities.”That is, time spent
playing video games displaced time that could have been spent
with one's partner. Relatedly, a study of online game players found
that time spent with such games created conﬂict amongst the
couples studied (Ahlstrom et al., 2012).
A large scale survey of technology use among Americans by the
PEW Research Center concluded that technology use can create
conﬂict in relationships. Cell phones were found to have a
“particularly distracting effect”on romantic relationships. Twenty
ﬁve percent of all couples surveyed reported that their spouse or
partner was distracted by his or her cell phone during their time
spent together. Not surprisingly, this effect was stronger for those
respondents between the ages of 18e29, where 42 percent re-
ported distractions caused by cell phones during their time
together. Thirty six percent of those married or living together for
ten years or less felt their partner was distracted by their cell phone
when together. Given the above, we offer the following hypothesis:
H2. The relationship between Pphubbing and relationship satis-
faction will be mediated by cell phone conﬂict.
2.3. The moderating role of attachment anxiety
Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) assists in explaining the
dispositions and propensities undertaken by individuals in their
development of relationships (Weisskirch &Delevi, 2013). The
theory proposes that individuals' unique interpersonal experiences
during early childhood shape their perceptions and expectations of
relationships, as well as how they behave in relationships
(Ainsworth, Salter, Blehar, Waters, &Wall, 1978; Drouin &
Landgraff, 2012; Morey, Gentzler, Creasy, Oberhauser, &
Westerman, 2013). Although individuals' attachment styles are
developed early in life, the associated patterns of behavior remain
active over the course of life and are manifested in individuals'
desires and tendencies to seek closeness and support (Bowlby,
1980; Fraley, Vicary, Brumbaugh, &Roisman, 2011; Hazan &
Attachment styles relate to how people view themselves based
on the lens of their relationships with others (Ainsworth et al.,
1978; Bowlby, 1969). Attachment anxiety, speciﬁcally, relates to
the degree to which individuals worry about whether they will be
accepted in relationships and fear abandonment (Mikulincer &
Florian, 1998; Morey et al. 2013; Thomson &Johnson, 2006). In-
dividuals with differing levels of attachment anxiety have different
expectations regarding interpersonal encounters and social situa-
tions (Bartholomew &Horowitz, 1991). Individuals with high levels
of attachment anxiety are strongly motivated by social factors and
often engage in hyperactivating strategies (Cassidy &Kobak, 1998),
whereby they are highly focused on information regarding re-
lations with others (Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, &Shaver, 2011; Luo, 2014;
Swaminathan, Stilley, &Ahluwalia, 2009). However, individuals
with lower levels of attachment anxiety tend to be more interde-
pendent, that is, they are more comfortable depending on others
and feel that others can be counted on to be trustworthy and reli-
able (Hazan &Shaver, 1987; Mikulincer, 1997). Thus, attachment
anxiety likely impacts individuals' responses to being Pphubbed.
Speciﬁcally, Pphubbing is likely to have a stronger effect on conﬂict
among individuals with higher levels of attachment anxiety.
Individuals high in attachment anxiety have a strong need for
closeness, a preoccupation with attachment, and of ten worry about
relationships (Mikulincer &Nachshon, 1991). Individuals whose
attachment styles are lower in anxiety, however, are less preoccu-
pied with relationships, feel comfortable exploring their sur-
roundings, and expect that others will be available and supportive
when needed (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bartholomew &Horowitz,
1991; Hansbrough, 2012). It is likely then that Pphubbing en-
hances interpersonal insecurity among highly anxiously attached
individuals, thus causing conﬂict, and ultimately negatively
impacting relationship satisfaction (Collins &Feeney, 2000).
However, the impact of Phhubbing on conﬂict is likely weaker
among individuals with lower levels of attachment anxiety. Indeed,
related research has shown that individuals high in attachment
anxiety are motivated to seek self-validation from others, while
individuals lower in attachment anxiety do not require external
validation from others (Bartholomew &Horowitz, 1991). Based on
this review, we posit the following:
H3. The relationship between Pphubbing and cell phone conﬂict
will be moderated by attachment anxiety.
2.4. Pphubbing and personal well-being
In the previous sections we hypothesized the process through
which Pphubbing impacts relationship satisfaction. We posited that
Pphubbing's impact on relationship satisfaction is mediated by the
conﬂict created by such behavior. We also hypothesized that
attachment anxiety moderates the Pphubbing ecell phone conﬂict
relationship. In this section we argue that greater relationship
satisfaction leads to higher levels of life satisfaction and lower
levels of depression. Speciﬁcally, we posit that Pphubbing will
indirectly impact depression through its impact on relationship and
McDaniel and Coyne (2014) used the Marital Discord model
(Beach, Sandeen, &O'Leary, 1990) to explain the link between
relationship well-being and life satisfaction and depression. Ac-
cording to the model, marital discord, or dissatisfaction, leads to a
greater risk of depression by removing or reducing spousal support
and the attendant stress and hostility that often accompanies such
discord (Proulx, Helms, &Buehler, 2007).
In their sample of 143 adult females currently in relationships,
McDaniel and Coyne (2014) found signiﬁcant bivariate correlations
between relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction and depres-
sion. As hypothesized, greater relationship satisfaction led to
greater satisfaction with life in general and was also negatively
associated with expressed symptoms of depression. Technoference
(interference from a range of technology devices) was also found to
be signiﬁcantly correlated with depression (þ) and life satisfaction
The relationship between marital quality and personal well-
being is well established in the family literature (Papp, Cummings,
&Schermerhorn, 2004). Meta-analyses by Whisman (2001) and
Proulx et al. (2007) found that marital discord leads to greater
levels of depression across 100-plus studies. Proulx et al. (2007)
concluded that marital dissatisfaction precedes depressive symp-
toms. Based upon the results from a large representative sample of
US families, Carr, Freedman, Cornman, and Schwarz (2014)
J.A. Roberts, M.E. David / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141136
concluded that marital satisfaction is a strong correlate of life
satisfaction, as well. In a study of 325 Taiwanese respondents, Lee,
Chang, Lin, and Cheng (2014) found that compulsive smartphone
usage was positively associated with technostress and that daily
exposure to stressors can have long-term effects on a user's mental
health. Based upon the above, we offer the following sequential
mediation (Preacher &Hayes, 2008; Model 6) hypothesis:
H4. Pphubbing will have an indirect negative impact on in-
dividuals' well-being. Speciﬁcally, the lower levels of relationship
satisfaction resulting from conﬂict surrounding Pphubbing will be
associated with lower levels of life satisfaction. In addition, lower
levels of life satisfaction will be associated with more depressive
Next, we present the results of two studies. The ﬁrst study was
designed as a pre-test to examine the measurement properties,
including the reliability and validity of our 9-item measure of
partner phubbing (Pphubbing). The second study was designed to
test the hypotheses presented in H1eH4 and shown in the con-
ceptual model in Fig. 1. Together, the two studies offer a valid and
reliable measure of Pphubbing and demonstrate the important
negative effects that Pphubbing has on relationships and ultimately
3.1. Study 1
3.1.1. Item development
Partner phubbing (Pphubbing) is the extent to which your
romantic partner uses or is distracted by his/her cell phone while in
your company. An initial item pool of over 100 items was generated
to measure Pphubbing. Each author gathered items from both the
academic literature and popular press sources including newspa-
pers, magazines, and websites. Additionally, approximately thirty
marketing research students were asked to generate phubbing
items after being provided the above deﬁnition and discussing the
concept of phubbing. It was evident that, among the college student
age group, phubbing was a common behavior that all had
As part of a classroom assignment on scale development, each
student was asked to provide at least ﬁve items they felt captured
the essence of phubbing. The authors later re-worded where
necessary any student generated items to reﬂect such behavior on
the part of one's partner. The authors perused the 100-plus items
generated and individually removed any they felt did not capture
the essence of Pphubbing or were redundant with items ultimately
selected for inclusion in the pre-test. Inter-rater agreement be-
tween the authors was over 90 percent. The above process led to
the inclusion of 19 items in the study's pre-test. Respondents were
asked to indicate how frequently their partner engaged in each of
the 19 behaviors as it relates to his or her cell phone use. Response
categories ranged from “Never”(1), “Rarely”(2), “Sometimes”(3),
“often”(4), to “All the Time”(5).
A total of 308 (46% female) US adults from Mturk participated in
our pre-test survey. To begin, participants responded to the 19
items that were designed to measure Pphubbing. Next, participants
responded to the 10-item personal involvement measure
(Zaichkowsky, 1985), a 7-item measure of cell phone conﬂict (two
items adapted from Theiss and Solomon (2006) directness of
communication about irritations scale), a 3-item measure of cell
phone addiction created for the present study, and a 4-item mea-
sure of relationship satisfaction (Murray, Holmes, Grifﬁn, &Derrick,
2015). The order of these measures was randomized to account for
any order effects, and each measure was separated by a unique
distracting task, such that participants completed four ostensibly
unrelated studies (Haws, Dholakia, &Bearden, 2010). At the end of
the survey, participants responded to relationship status/length
and demographic questions.
An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted to construct
a Pphubbing scale on the basis of resulting factor loadings
(Churchill, 1979). Principal components extraction and varimax
rotation were used to interpret the factor loadings (Haws et al.,
2010). Items that loaded on more than one factor as well as those
with factor loadings below .60 were removed. This process reduced
the 19 items into a 9-item Pphubbing measure. The data was well-
suited for factor analyses as indicated by the KMO statistic (.94) and
the Bartlett's test of Sphericity (X
¼1998.13, p<.01). The
Pphubbing measure exhibited a factor structure consistent with the
hypothesized one factor measure. Therefore, and to test discrimi-
nant validity of the measure, we next ran a series of conﬁrmatory
factor analyses (CFA's) on the scale using AMOS 21.0. Speciﬁcally, a
CFA was conducted with the 9-item Pphubbing construct
¼80.02, df ¼27, n ¼308; CFI ¼.97; NFI ¼.96; RMSEA ¼.08),
and each of the following: the 10-item involvement construct
¼486.04, df ¼151, n ¼308; CFI ¼.93; NFI ¼.90; RMSEA ¼.08),
the 4-item attitude construct (X
¼127.60, df ¼64, n ¼308;
CFI ¼.98; NFI ¼.96; RMSEA ¼.06), the 3-item cell phone addiction
¼141.76, df ¼53, n ¼308; CFI ¼.97; NFI ¼.95;
RMSEA ¼.07), and the 7-item cell phone conﬂict measure
¼361.11, df ¼103, n ¼308; CFI ¼.94; NFI ¼.92; RMSEA ¼.09).
As indicated by the ﬁt statistics reported above, the results of the
conﬁrmatory factor analyses indicated that the models ﬁt the data
well. The chi-squared statistic was signiﬁcant (p<.01) in each CFA,
but this was not unexpected since it is known to be sensitive to
large sample sizes (Bearden, Sharma, &Teel, 1982; Marsh, Balla, &
McDonald, 1988). The construct reliability estimates for the
Pphubbing scale (.93), the involvement scale (.96), the attitude
scale (.92), the cell phone addiction (.81), and the cell phone con-
ﬂict scale (.94) were acceptable. Additionally, evidence of
Fig. 1. Conceptual model.
J.A. Roberts, M.E. David / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141 137
convergent validity was established in each CFA, as all items loaded
strongly and signiﬁcantly on their respective factors and the
average variance extracted for each latent variable exceeded .50
(Fornell &Larcker, 1981). In providing evidence for discriminant
validity as recommended by Fornell and Larcker (1981), the AVE for
each latent factor exceeded the respective squared correlation be-
Pphubbing scores covered the whole scale with a mean of 2.64
(SD ¼.68), ranging from 1 to 5 (5 ¼high). Our instrument was thus
able to capture the variance in intensity of which individuals feel
that their partners phubbed them, thereby allowing us to test dif-
ferences across Pphubbing levels. Unlike Pphubbing scores, which
were normally distributed around the center point of the scale
(M ¼2.78/5.0, SD ¼.91), the cell phone addiction scores were
skewed to the lower end of the scale (M¼3.01/7.0, SD ¼1.59). The
distribution of scores for attitudes toward cell phones (M ¼3.81/
5.0, SD ¼.97) and partner's cell phone involvement (M¼4.96/7.0,
SD ¼1.33) were also skewed, but to the high end of the scale. This
reinforces the notion that it is possible an individual dislike cell
phones, to feel as if his/her partner is addicted to his/her cell phone,
and/or to feel that his/her partner is highly involved with his/her
cell phone without necessarily feeling phubbed by their relation-
ship partner (Russell, Norman, &Heckler, 2004).
Next, we tested the prediction in our conceptual model that
Pphubbing has a positive effect on cell phone conﬂict and that cell
phone conﬂict mediates the relationship between Pphubbing and
relationship satisfaction (Preacher &Hayes, 2008 PROCESS Model
4). As predicted, the results indicated that Pphubbing has a signif-
icant and positive effect (
¼.59, p<.05) on cell phone conﬂict (F
¼135.40, p<.01, R
¼.31). In addition, cell phone conﬂict has a
signiﬁcant and negative effect (
¼.48, p<.05) on relationship
¼34.27, p<.01, R
¼.18). Importantly, the
results show support for mediation. Speciﬁcally, the indirect effect
of Pphubbing on relationship satisfaction is signiﬁcant (
SE ¼.06, 95%CI: .413, .174) (Preacher &Hayes, 2008; Zhao,
Lynch, &Chen, 2010).
Overall, study 1 showed that the Pphubbing construct and its
measurement instrument can signiﬁcantly further our under-
standing of the use of cell phones and its effects on interpersonal
relationships. As a means of establishing the construct's discrimi-
nant validity, we demonstrated that Pphubbing is conceptually and
empirically different from attitude toward cell phones, partner's
cell phone involvement, cell phone conﬂict, and cell phone addic-
tion. In order to begin establishing the predictive validity of our
Pphubbing construct, we showed that it is a signiﬁcant predictor of
cell phone conﬂict and has an indirect effect on relationship satis-
faction. Further, the study included a broad cross section of in-
dividuals in relationships, and showed that the Pphubbing
construct is relevant and applicable to different demographic
groups and different stages of relationships.
3.2. Study 2
One hundred and forty-ﬁve US adults (55% female) from Mturk
participated in study 2. To begin, participants responded to our 9-
item measure of Pphubbing (
¼.92). Later in the study, partici-
pants responded to the same 7-item measure of cell phone conﬂict
¼.92) and 4-item measure of relationship satisfaction (
as used previously in study 1. We also assessed participants'
satisfaction with their life (
¼.92) using 2-items measured on a 7
point Likert scale (“Overall, I am satisﬁed with my life,”and “Iam
happy with my life in general”). Depression was assessed using a 4-
item measure (PHQ-4) developed by Kroenke, Spitzer, Williams,
and Lowe (2009) (
¼.92), and interpersonal attachment style
using the Johnson, Whelan, and Thomson (2012) 5-item measures
of attachment anxiety (
¼.86) and avoidance ((
¼.84) which is
similar to a shorten version of the Brennan, Clark, and Shaver
(1998) 36-item measure of attachment style. Of note, attachment
avoidance was included as a control variable in the analyses and it
did not impact the results presented. The order of these measures
was randomized to account for any order effects. Importantly, each
measure was separated by a short distracting task.
The Preacher and Hayes (2008) Model 7 was used to test the
prediction that Pphubbing increases cell phone conﬂict and that
attachment anxiety moderates this relationship (F
¼.58). The main effect of Pphubbing was signiﬁcant
¼.47, p<.05), but the main effect of attachment anxiety was not
signiﬁcant. As predicted and as illustrated in Fig. 2, there was a
signiﬁcant interactive effect of Pphubbing and attachment anxiety
on cell phone conﬂict (
¼.10, p<.05). Post-hoc tests (at 1SD ±the
mean attachment anxiety score) revealed three signiﬁcant com-
parisons. Speciﬁcally, Pphubbing increases conﬂict among both
¼1.3 1, M
¼2.46, p<.05) and anxiously
¼3.06, p<.05) attached individuals. In addi-
tion, among individuals who experience high levels of Pphubbing,
those with anxious attachment styles have greater conﬂict than
those with secure attachment styles (M
¼2.46, p<.05). The results also showed that Pphubbing
¼.34, p<.05) and cell phone conﬂict (
¼.84, p<.05) are
signiﬁcant predictors of relationship satisfaction (F
¼.29). Importantly, the results indicate that cell phone
conﬂict mediates the relationship between Pphubbing and rela-
tionship satisfaction, and the mediating effect of cell phone conﬂict
is stronger among anxiously attached individuals. That is, support
for moderated mediation is found (SE ¼.03, 95%CI: .15, .01).
Next, the Preacher and Hayes (2008) Model 6 was used to test
the remainder of our conceptual model (i.e., sequential mediation).
The results indicate that relationship satisfaction has a signiﬁcant
and positive effect on life satisfaction (
¼.460, p<.01), and life
satisfaction has a signiﬁcant and negative effect on depression
¼.459, p<.01). As predicted, the results show support for
sequential moderated mediation (
¼.142; SE ¼.05, 95%CI: .065,
.258), such that the indirect effect of Pphubbing on depression is
signiﬁcant via relationship satisfaction and then life satisfaction
(See Fig. 1)(Preacher &Hayes, 2008).
Previous research has documented the considerable amount of
time people spend interacting with technology (Harris, Harris,
Carlson, &Carlson, 2015). In a sample of college students,
Roberts, Petnji Ya-Ya, and Manolis (2014) found that college
Fig. 2. Study 2 results.
J.A. Roberts, M.E. David / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141138
students spend an average of nearly 9 h daily on their cell phones.
Other studies have found similarly large amounts of time spent
devoted to one's cell phone (Junco &Cotton, 2012;Lenhart &
Duggan, 2014). It appears that people from all age groups are
spending an increasing amount of time interacting with their cell
phones and other electronic devices to the detriment of human
interaction (Grifﬁths, 1999, 2000; Roberts &Pirog, 2013).
With their constant beeping, bells, vibrations and whistles, cell
phones are like the petulant child who will not behave until he or
she gets what they want. The desire of our cell phone is to be
constantly attended to. Cell phones demand our attention and, as
the present research ﬁnds, can undermine our satisfaction with our
romantic relationships. The present study is the ﬁrst to investigate
the oft-occurring behavior of Pphubbing and its impact on rela-
tionship satisfaction. Given the scant existing research on how
technology, speciﬁcally cell phones, distract or interfere with re-
lationships, this study ﬁlls an important gap in the current
An important contribution of the present study is the develop-
ment of the Pphubbing scale. Given the increasing use of cell
phones in general, it is critical that valid measures are available to
document how, or if, such use impacts relationship satisfaction
among romantic partners. Beneﬁts of the current Pphubbing scale
include that it is a brief (9 items) and documented valid measure of
partner phubbing. It is also a scale that measures distraction spe-
ciﬁc to one technologydcell phones. Many current studies have
investigated the impact the use of a broad array of technologies has
on relationships (McDaniel &Coyne, 2014). Given the differences
across these technologies (e.g., TV is passive while cell phones are
more interactive and intrusive), any signiﬁcant relationships be-
tween the variables of interest may have been masked by such
A second important contribution is that the present study offers
a model of the process by which Pphubbing impacts relationship
satisfaction and ultimately personal well-being. As hypothesized,
interruptions and distractions caused by a romantic partner's
phubbing behavior increased conﬂict speciﬁcally related to such
behavior (cell phone conﬂict). In turn, such conﬂict diminished a
partner's satisfaction with his or her relationship.
In addition, we found that Pphubbing's impact on cell phone
conﬂict was moderated by attachment anxiety. Although it appears
that Pphubbing fosters cell phone related conﬂict for all types of
people, we found that when Pphubbing occurs, those with highly
anxious attachment styles reported higher levels of conﬂict than
those with less anxious attachment styles. Those with anxious
attachment styles may over-react to Pphubbing compared to those
with more secure attachment styles leading to lower levels of
relationship satisfaction (Neff &Karney, 2009).
Lastly, the present study ﬁnds that diminished relationship
satisfaction negatively impacted life satisfaction and depression
consistent with research in the marital satisfaction literature (Papp
et al., 2004;Proulx et al., 2007;Whisman, 2001). Marital discord
preceded depression, rather than vice-versa. Although McDaniel
and Coyne (2014) did not distinguish in their model whether
depression led to lower life satisfaction or vice-versa, the present
study found that lower levels of relationship satisfaction (stemming
at least in part from being Pphubbed) led to decreased life satis-
faction that in turn led to higher levels of depression. Importantly,
the ﬁndings of sequential mediation analysis (Preacher &Hayes,
2008) revealed that Pphubbing indirectly impacted depression
through relationship satisfaction and ultimately life satisfaction.
That is, Pphubbing has in indirect effect on personal well-being,
such that greater Phhubbing results in not only lower relation-
ship satisfaction, but also lower satisfaction with one's life and
higher levels of depression.
5. Limitations and future research directions
Although the present research serves as the ﬁrst to investigate
the impact of Pphubbing on relationship satisfaction and personal
well-being, its results must be tempered by certain limitations.
First, although the samples used were adequate size and repre-
sented a broad swath of both women and men of all ages, future
research in this area would beneﬁt from studying both partners in
romantic relationships. For instance, Ahlstrom et al. (2012) found
that couples where only one partner played video games reported
higher levels of marital discord than couples where both played
video games. Couples where both partners played video games
argued less about their play than couples where one spouse only
played and approximately three-quarters of these couples reported
that gaming had a positive impact on their relationship. Since the
focus of the present paper is on relationship satisfaction, future
research will be better able to tease out the nuances of technology's
impact on relationship satisfaction if both partners are included in
A second limitation of the present study is its correlational
nature. Experimental and longitudinal studies are needed to more
thoroughly establish the direction of causal ﬂow. Could it be that
those partners who are less satisﬁed with their relationship may
exhibit more Pphubbing behaviors as an indication of their
disenchantment? The present ﬁndings appear to suggest other-
wise, but future causal research is needed to better understand
the relationships between Pphubbing, relationship satisfaction,
and personal well-being. In addition, future research could use
longitudinal studies to examine whether an increase in Pphub-
bing overtime also results in a gradual decline in relationship
satisfaction. As suggested by a reviewer of this article, it may be
that some people are less likely to overuse technology, or
frequently engaging in Pphubbing behaviors, in the early stages of
Although the proposed sequential moderated-mediation
model in the present study was supported, it would be an over-
simpliﬁcation to conclude that the variables included in the pre-
sent study are the only through which Pphubbing impacts rela-
tionship satisfaction and personal well-being. Pphubbing may
also affect respect for one's partner; undermine sense of self-
worth, and/or general resentment in the offended partner. Or, as
suggested by the displacement hypothesis discussed earlier, it
may be that the time spent with one's cell phone usurps time
spent on activities with one's spouse that may build a stronger,
happier relationship. All of these variables need to be incorpo-
rated into research designs that are focused on how technology
use among romantic partners impacts relationship satisfaction
Future research will also beneﬁt from the further validation
of the newly constructed Pphubbing scale. As noted by Padilla-
Walker et al. (2012), it is important that future research in-
vestigates the various technologies separately given that
different medium “allow for different levels of co-orientation”
(p. 428). Given the ubiquitous and potentially intrusive nature of
cell phones, they were chosen for investigation in the present
The institution of marriage (and romantic relationships in gen-
eral) is under attack. Approximately 40e50 percent of all marriages
will end in divorce (www.apa.org/topics/divorce/), while many of
the intact unions are poorly functioning and are characterized by
low levels of relationship satisfaction on the part of one or both
partners (Ahlstrom et al., 2012). As intimated in the title of this
J.A. Roberts, M.E. David / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 134e141 139
paper, it appears that life has become a major distraction from our
cell phones. It is ironic that cell phones, originally designed as a
communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster satis-
fying relationships among romantic partners.
The results presented herein suggest that partner phubbing
creates conﬂict over such use of one's cell phone which in turn
impacts reported relationship satisfaction, and ultimately personal
well-being. Attachment anxiety was found to moderate the
Pphubbing ecell phone conﬂict relationship. Speciﬁcally, among
individuals who experience Pphubbing, those with anxious
attachment styles report higher levels of cell phone conﬂict than
those with less anxious attachment styles. Given that the number
of anxiously attached individuals has been increasing steadily over
the past couple of decades and is thought to continue increasing
(Bowlby, 1980, Holmes, 1993), the negative effects of Pphubbing
may well grow stronger with time.
The results presented herein also found that relationship satis-
faction had a positive impact on life satisfaction which in turnhad a
negative inﬂuence on depression. Support for sequential moder-
ated mediation was provided in that Pphubbing's indirect effect on
depression was signiﬁcant via relationship satisfaction and then life
In summary, how individuals use cell phones in the presence of
a romantic partner impacts the partner's satisfaction with their
relationship, which in turn can negatively impact their personal
well-being. Given that marital/relationship satisfaction is a
cornerstone of both individual and family well-being (Ahlstrom
et al., 2012), research that investigates how technology use im-
pacts our relationships is critical.
Partner phubbing (Pphubbing) scale items
1. During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together,
my partner pulls out and checks his/her cell phone (slight
2. My partner places his or her cell phone where they can see it
when we are together.
3. My partner keeps his or her cell phone in their hand when he or
she is with me.
4. When my partner's cell phone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out
even if we are in the middle of a conversation (slight
5. My partner glances at his/her cell phone when talking to me.
6. During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend
together, my partner uses his/her cell phone (slight
7. My partner does not use his or her phone when we are talking
8. My partner uses his or her cell phone when we are out
9. If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or
her cell phone.
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