Full length article
Digitally connected, socially disconnected: The effects of relying on
technology rather than other people
, Jason D.E. Proulx, Elizabeth W. Dunn
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, V6T 1Z4, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Received 10 June 2016
Received in revised form
20 April 2017
Accepted 1 July 2017
Available online 3 July 2017
In less than a decade, smartphones have transformed how, when, and where people access information.
We propose that turning to technology for information may lead individuals to miss out on opportunities
to cultivate feelings of social connection. Testing this hypothesis, we asked participants to ﬁnd an un-
familiar building and randomly assigned them to solve this everyday problem either with or without
their smartphones. Compared to those who could not rely on technology, participants who used their
smartphones found the building more easily but ended up feeling less socially connected. Although
having access to smartphones improved participants’mood by making their task easier, this beneﬁcial
effect was diminished by the costs to social connection. Our ﬁndings provide the ﬁrst experimental
evidence that the beneﬁts of pervasive connectivity may be undercut when technology supplants social
©2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Smartphones are the ﬁrst thing many Americans report reach-
ing for when they wake up in the morningdbeating out coffee or
even their own signiﬁcant others, according to a recent survey
(Braun Research Inc, 2015). In the same nationally representative
survey, almost half of Americans admitted that they could not go a
day without their smartphones. Smartphones provide unprece-
dented access to information, enabling individuals to harness the
full resources of the Internet from anywhere. But could this
omnipresent access to information carry unforeseen consequences
for the fabric of social life?
Smartphones represent a new branch in the evolution of infor-
mation technology because of two deﬁning characteristics. First,
unlike many other computing devices, smartphones are portable
and constantly accessible, pervading people's daily lives (Pew
Research Center, 2015). Second, unlike other portable sources of
informationdfrom simple cell phones to newspapers and
mapsdsmartphones provide connectivity to limitless information
on-demand, enabling people to solve a wide variety of everyday
problems. It is this pervasive connectivity that theoretically sets
smartphones apart from any preceding information tool. There is a
great deal of public debate (e.g., Schwartz, 2015; Turkle, 2011, 2015),
but a dearth of rigorous experimental research on the effects of this
emerging technological revolution for social and emotional well-
Most existing research relevant to the effects of phones on well-
being has focused on apps that are explicitly designed to enable
people to connect with others through messaging and social media
(e.g., Guillory, Hancock, Woodruff, &Keilman, 2015; Hall &Baym,
2012; Pielot, Church, &de Oliveira, 2014; Pollet, Roberts, &
Dunbar, 2011; Valkenburg &Peter, 2007). In contrast, very little
research has explored whether the use of smartphones for
information-seeking (e.g., search engines, Google Maps, Apple
Maps) might also inﬂuence social outcomes and emotional well-
being. And the few existing studies rely on correlational methods,
which cannot establish causality (e.g., Kushlev &Proulx, 2016). In
the present research, we used experimental methods to investigate
how relying on smartphones for information would shape social
and emotional well-being. We propose that by enabling people to
rely on technology for information anywhere, smartphones may
obviate the need for people to rely on each other, thereby leading
them to miss out on opportunities to foster a sense of
*Corresponding author. Present address: Department of Psychology, University
of Virginia, 102 Gilmer Hall, PO Box 40040 0, Charlottesville, VA, USA.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (K. Kushlev), email@example.com
(J.D.E. Proulx), firstname.lastname@example.org (E.W. Dunn).
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journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh
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Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e74
connectedness. We explored this idea by asking participants to
solve an everyday problem: ﬁnding an unfamiliar building either
with or without their smartphones. We chose this particular task
because people rank ﬁnding directions amongst the most indis-
pensable functions of smartphones (Pew Research Center, 2015).
2. Theoretical background and hypotheses
According to the principle of least effort (Ferrero, 1894), organ-
isms tend to seek the easiest way to achieve a given outcome.
Applying this principle to information-seeking behavior, Mann
(1990) argued that people would tend to rely on the most conve-
nient available method of obtaining information. And due to their
portability and connectivity to the Internet, smartphones are
nothing if not convenient. Indeed, ‘convenience’was the most
frequently mentioned word amongst U.S. poll respondents asked to
describe what they like about their phones (Pew Research Center,
2012). According to the principle of least effort, then, smartphone
users should be less likely to rely on other methods of seeking in-
formation if they can easily obtain information from their phones.
After all, why turn to a friendly stranger for directions to a caf
when Google Maps is just a ﬁnger swipe away? Thus, we hypoth-
esize that when people have access to their phones, they will be less
likely to rely on other human beings to obtain information, such as
getting directions while looking for an unfamiliar address (Hy-
To the extent that individuals rely on technology rather than
other people for information, they may miss out on opportunities
to satisfy fundamental human needs. Although different motivation
theories differ in their speciﬁcation of basic human needs, social
needs feature in virtually all existing models of human motivation
(Baumeister &Leary, 1995; Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, &
Schaller, 2010; Maslow, 1943; Ryan &Deci, 2000; Ryff, 1989). In
his classic pyramid of needs, for example, Abraham Maslow (1943)
theorized that social needs for connection and belonging are
fundamental for human ﬂourishingdsecondary only to basic sur-
vival needs for water, food, and safety. In a recent reformulation of
Maslow's classic pyramid, evolutionary theorists have kept social
needs at this central place within the hierarchy of human needs
(Kenrick et al., 2010). Furthermore, according to self-determination
theory (Ryan &Deci, 2000), a sense of relatedness to others is one of
only three universal psychological needs that are essential for hu-
man ﬂourishing. Similarly, Baumeister and Leary (1995) integrated
decades of psychological research to place the need to belong
amongst the most fundamental human motivations.
Past research has primarily focused on social interactions with
strong ties (e.g., family, friends) in satisfying people's need for social
connectedness (e.g., Mehl, Vazire, Holleran, &Clark, 2010; Reis,
Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, &Ryan, 2000; Vittengl &Holt, 1998;
Wheeler, Reis, &Nezlek, 1983). Recent research suggests, howev-
er, that even seemingly trivial interactions with strangers and ac-
quaintances can play a surprisingly important role in shaping
feelings of social connection (Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014a, 2014b).
For example, participants who were randomly assigned to have a
brief conversation with the barista at Starbucks left the coffee shop
with a greater sense of belonging compared to participants who
were assigned to conduct the same transaction as efﬁciently as
possible (Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014a). Thus, if people who have
access to their phones are less likely to talk to other people while
searching for a building (Hypothesis 1), we hypothesize that they
will also experience a lower sense of social connectedness than
those who do not have access to their phones (Hypothesis 2).
This detrimental effect of phones on social connectedness, in
turn, should have downstream negative consequences for mood. A
great deal of research suggests that feeling socially connected is
important for emotional well-being (Cacioppo et al., 2006;
Lyubomirsky &Boehm, 2010; Myers &Diener, 1995; Reis et al.,
2000; Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014a). To the extent that phones lead
individuals to miss out on opportunities to cultivate a sense of
connection (Hypothesis 2), we hypothesize that people relying on
their phones for directions will experience lower emotional well-
beingdpotentially undercutting the emotional beneﬁts of conve-
nience that technology affords (Hypothesis 3).
3. Study 1
In Study 1, we examined the consequences of relying on phones
when looking for a building. We randomly assigned participants to
a condition in which they could rely on their phones (phone con-
dition) or a condition in which they could not rely on their phones
3.2. Pre-registered hypotheses
We preregistered three central hypotheses on the Open Science
Framework (see http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study1-Hypotheses).
First, we expected that participants would be less likely to rely on
other people if they could use their phones (Hypothesis 1). Second,
we predicted that participants would feel less socially connected in
the phone condition than the phoneless condition (Hypothesis 2).
Finally, given the central importance of feeling sociallyconnected for
emotional well-being, we also predicted that participants in the
phone condition would report less positive mood compared to those
in the phoneless condition (Hypothesis 3).
3.3. Study 1 materials and methods
3.3.1. Participants and power
We pre-registered power analyses on the Open Science Frame-
work: http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study1-PA. Based on the most
closely related previous research (Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014a), we
expected a large effect size of d¼.80, necessitating a minimum
sample size of 84 participants for 95% power. We expected that
some participants might not be able to follow instructions due to
common phone issues (e.g., poor reception). To ensure a minimum
power of 95% given our assumed effect size, therefore, we recruited
approximately 15% more participants (N ¼98). Six participants who
were instructed to use their phones failed to do so because of various
issues (e.g., no Internet access), and were therefore excluded, leav-
ing a ﬁnal sample of 92 participants (Median age ¼19.50, Age Range:
17e42; 84% women).
All participants were University of British Columbia students
who completed the study for partial course credit. The study was
advertised on the UBC Psychology Department's Participant Pool
website and could be taken by any student enrolled in a psychology
class regardless of major. After arriving at the lab, all participants
provided informed consent. The informed consent and all study
procedures were approved by UBC's Ethics Board.
Participants came to our lab individually. We asked if they knew
where various buildings on campus were located and sent them to
ﬁnd a building that was unfamiliar to them. We randomly assigned
participants to complete this task by using their smartphones
(phone condition) or without using their smartphones (phoneless
condition). Aside from this constraint, participants in both condi-
tions were free to use any strategies they wished to ﬁnd the
building, such as asking others for directions, using campus signs/
K. Kushlev et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e74 69
maps, or simply wandering around. All participants were instructed
to leave their belongings in the lab, but participants in the phone
condition were told to keep their smartphones. All buildings were a
10e12 min walk from our lab; participants were instructed to re-
turn the lab if they did not ﬁnd the building within 30 min. To keep
track of time, participants were given basic wristwatches. When
participants found their building or returned to the lab, they
completed a survey containing our dependent measures. Seven
participants (2 in the phone condition and 5 in the phoneless con-
dition) did not ﬁnd their building within the allotted time; they
were included in the analyses.
188.8.131.52. Convenience. We assumed that smartphones would be
useful in locating the building. To test this assumption, we asked
participants to report how difﬁcult it was for them to locate the
building (from 0enot at all to 6every much).
184.108.40.206. Pre-registered measures. To test Hypothesis 1, we asked
participants to indicate how many people they talked to in person
while looking for the building (from 0eNone to 4e4 or more). To
test Hypothesis 2, we assessed social connectedness with eight
items from the Social Connectedness Scale-Revised (Lee, Draper, &
Lee, 2001); these items were selected to assess people's general
sense of connectedness to other people. To test Hypothesis 3, we
measured mood using Schimmack and Grob's (2000) six-item
affect valence subscale, which captures the extent to which in-
dividuals are feeling pleasant vs. unpleasant (see Table 1 for details
and reliability of all measures).
220.127.116.11. Exploratory measures. Our survey also included explor-
atory measures of tense and energetic arousal (Schimmack &Grob,
2000), trust (using items from the General Social Survey), sense of
community (using the Brief Sense of Community Scale; Peterson,
Speer, &McMillan, 2008), feelings of agency and communion
(adapted from Abele &Wojciszke, 2007), and self-sufﬁciency (see
Table 1 for details of all measures). Finally, we also included a
measure of prosocial behavior by dropping pens on the ground
while participants were completing the survey and recording
whether they offered help (van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, &van
Consistent with our assumption that phones would make the
task easier, participants who relied on their phones found it less
difﬁcult to locate the buildings, t(89) ¼4.46, p<.001.
standard deviations, and effect sizes for these and subsequent an-
alyses are provided in Table 2.
3.4.2. Pre-registered hypotheses
Consistent with Hypothesis 1, participants who used their
phones talked to fewer people to obtain directions than partici-
pants who could not depend on their phones, t(65.97) ¼9.32,
Indeed, in the phone condition, over 80% of participants
searched for the building without ever talking to anyone else,
whereas less than 10% did so in the phoneless condition. Conﬁrming
Hypothesis 2, we found that people who relied on their phones felt
less socially connected than those who left their phones in the lab,
t(89) ¼2.10, p¼.04. Contrary to Hypothesis 3, we found no sig-
niﬁcant difference in mood (i.e., affect valence) between partici-
pants who relied on their phones and those who did not,
t(90) ¼.47, p¼.64 (see Table 2).
3.4.3. Countervailing effects of technology on mood
Given the well-established role of social connectedness in
emotional well-being (e.g., Baumeister &Leary,1995), it is puzzling
that we found a condition effect on connectedness but not mood. To
illuminate this surprising ﬁnding, we next explored whether the
negative downstream consequences of lost social connection for
mood might have been offset by positive downstream conse-
quences of convenience. To test this mediational hypothesis, we
used the PROCESS macro on SPSS21, which uses bootstrapping for
constructing conﬁdence intervals for the effects and thus provides
less biased tests of statistical signiﬁcance (Hayes, 2013). In a
mediational model using bootstrapping with 50,000 samples, we
entered social connectedness and task difﬁculty as simultaneous
mediators of the condition effect on mood. We found that relying
on phones had both a negative effect on mood through lower social
connectedness and a positive effect on mood through reduced task
difﬁculty (Fig. 1).
3.4.4. Exploratory measures
Consistent with the negative effect of phone use on social
connectedness, we found that participants in the phone condition
felt less trusting toward others than participants in the phoneless
condition, t(89) ¼2.25, p¼.03 (Table 2). We found no other
signiﬁcant main effects of condition on our exploratory measures,
4. Study 2
4.1. Overview &pre-registered hypotheses
The results of Study 1 suggest that when people rely on tech-
nology rather than each other to solve an everyday problem, they
may miss out on opportunities to cultivate a sense of social
connection. In Study 2, we conducted a direct replication with a
larger sample. We expected to replicate the signiﬁcant effects of
condition on social interactions, social connectedness, and trust
that we observed in Study 1, and we preregistered these hypotheses
on OSF (see http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study2-PA1).
4.2. Study 2 materials and method
4.2.1. Participants and power
Based on the effect size for social connectedness in Study 1
(d¼.44), we planned to recruit 220 participants for 90% power.
These power analyses were pre-registered on the Open Science
Framework (OSF) at http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study2-PA1.
Because data collection proceeded more slowly than expected and
the study was conducted in the fall when weather conditions in
Canada get progressively less amenable to conducting outdoor
studies, we added a termination date of October 16, 2015, with the
goal of achieving at least 80% power; this corresponded to a min-
imum sample of 166 participants, which we registered on OSF
(http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study2-PA2). By October 16, we had
recruited a total of 189 participants. We again excluded participants
who failed to comply with the experimental instructions; three
participants were instructed to use their phones, but failed to do so,
while four participants refused to leave their phones in the lab
when asked, leaving a ﬁnal sample of 182 participants (Median
To test differences between conditions, we conducted between-subjects t-tests
Degrees of freedom and the t-test value for some tests were adjusted because
the Levene's test for equality of variance indicated unequal variances between
K. Kushlev et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e7470
age ¼20, Range: 17e29; 68% women).
4.2.2. Procedure and measures
The recruitment procedures and experimental design were
identical to Study 1: Participants were asked to ﬁnd an unfamiliar
building on campus either by using their phones (phone condition)
or without using their phones (phoneless condition). All of those
who relied on their phones located their assigned buildings,
whereas eleven participants (12%) who left their phones in the lab
failed to locate the building. These participants were included in
the analyses. At the end of the study, participants completed the
same questionnaire as in Study 1 (see Table 1 for details).
Additionally, we measured the interest/enjoyment people experi-
enced when searching for the building (Ryan, 1982) and assessed
the usefulness of phones more objectively by recording the time it
took participants to ﬁnd the building. To simplify the procedure, we
eliminated our exploratory measure of prosocial behavior.
Consistent with Study 1, participants in the phone (vs. phoneless)
condition found searching for the buildings to be less difﬁcult,
t(155.46) ¼8.19, p<.001 (see Table 2 for descriptives, effect sizes,
Study 1; Study 2
Operationalization Response Options
Social Connectedness .86; .84 8 I felt close to people.
I felt distant from people. (R)
I didn't feel related to people. (R)
I felt like an outsider. (R)
I saw myself as a loner. (R)
I was in tune with the world.
I saw people as friendly and approachable.
I felt disconnected from the world around me. (R)
Sense of Community .94; .94 6 I can get what I need from the UBC community.
The UBC community helps me fulﬁll my needs.
I have a good bond with others in the UBC community.
I belong to the UBC community.
I feel like a member of the UBC community.
I feel connected to the UBC community.
Trust .60; .71 3 Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you cannot
be too careful in dealing with people?
1eYou cannot be too
careful in dealing with
2eMost people can be
How much do you trust strangers? 1eCannot be trusted at all
5eCan be trusted a lot
If you lost a wallet or purse that contained two hundred dollars, how likely is it to be
returned with the money in it, if it was found by a stranger?
1enot at all likely
Affect: Valence (Mood) .92; .87 6 (pleasant þgood þpositive) e(unpleasant þbad þnegative) 0enot at all; 6every much
Affect: Tense Arousal .90; .84 6 (calm þrelaxed þat rest) e(tense þjittery þrestless) 0enot at all; 6every much
Affect: Energetic Arousal .87; .80 6 (awake þwakeful þalert) e(tired þdrowsy þsleepy) 0enot at all; 6every much
Self-sufﬁciency .84; .58 2 Self-sufﬁcient; independent 0enot at all; 6every much
Agency .79; .75 6 active; competent; self-conﬁdent; dynamic; assertive; efﬁcient 0enot at all; 6every much
Communion .79; .78 6 friendly; empathetic; likable; understanding; helpful; reliable 0enot at all; 6every much
Notes. We computed an overall trust composite by ﬁrst standardizing each of the three items and then computing the mean of the resulting z-scores.
Effects of relying on smartphones for information.
Study 1 Study 2 Meta-Analysis
Cohen's d[95% CI] Phone
Cohen's d[95% CI] Cohen's d[95% CI]
Difﬁculty 1.54 (1.63) 3.18 (1.86) e.95 [e1.30; .59]
1.15 (1.31) 3.13 (1.86) 1.24 [e1.47; 1.01]
1.14 [e1.39; .88]
# Social Interactions .29 (.68) 2.36 (1.30) 2.00 [e2.22; 1.78]
.30 (.82) 2.29 (1.25) 1.90 [e2.05; 1.75]
1.93 [e2.22; 1.64]
Connectedness 4.55 (1.18) 5.03 (1.00) e.44 [e.66; .22]
4.62 (.95) 5.02 (.98) e.42 [e.56; .28]
e.43 [e.67; .19]
Mood 3.03 (2.26) 2.80 (2.42) .10 [e.38; .57] 3.33 (1.53) 2.74 (1.99) .33 [.08; .59]
.25 [.01; .49]
Tense Arousal 1.18 (2.60) e.67 (2.77) e.19 [.73; .35] 2.01 (2.07) e.75 (2.40) e.57 [.89; .24]
e.44 [e.68; .20]
Energetic Arousal 2.57 (2.05) 2.83 (2.18) e.13 [.56; .30] 2.19 (2.02) 2.64 (2.06) e.22 [e.52; .07] e.19 [e.43; .05]
Trust e.17 (.78) .17 (.66) e.48 [e.63; .33]
.002 (.72) e.003 (.87) .01 [e.11; .12] e.15 [e.39; .09]
Sense of Community 4.63 (1.20) 4.96 (1.38) e.26 [e.52; .01] 4.81 (1.16) 4.84 (1.86) e.02 [e.19; .15] e.10 [e.34 .14]
Agency 3.83 (1.06) 3.93 (.89) e.10 [e.30; .10] 3.78 (.88) 3.90 (.95) e.13 [e.26; 0] e.12 [e.36; .12]
Communion 3.26 (.91) 3.46 (1.00) e.21 [e.40; .01] 3.36 (1.04) 3.34 (.82) .02 [e.12; .15] e.06 [e.30; .18]
Self-Sufﬁciency 4.64 (1.05) 4.39 (1.28) .22 [e.02; .45] 4.56 (.92) 4.17 (1.24) .36 [.21; .52]
.31 [.08; .55]
Prosocial Behavior 48.9% 53.5% NA NA NA NA NA
Interest/Enjoyment NA NA NA 4.77 (1.16) 4.90 (1.20) e.11[e.28; .06] NA
Notes. The scores for affect vary from 6toþ6 because composite scores are calculated by subtracting the reverse items of each scale from the other items (e.g., feeling bad is
subtracted from feeling good). Meta-analytic effects were calculated with a ﬁxed effect method using Cumming's ESCI software for conducting meta-analyses of Cohen's
d based on two independent groups (Cumming, 2013). Percentages for prosocial behavior indicate percent of people who offered help with picking up the pens.
signiﬁcant effect at two-tailed
¼.05 or lower. The raw data for both studies can be obtained at http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Study-Data.
K. Kushlev et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e74 71
and conﬁdence intervals). Participants relying on their phones also
located the buildings faster (M¼12.28 min, SD ¼4.32) than those
who left their phones at the lab (M¼16.44 min, SD ¼7.31),
t(122.29) ¼4.44, p<.001, Cohen's d¼.71, 95%CI [e1.01; .39].
4.3.2. Pre-registered hypotheses
We expected to replicate the signiﬁcant effects of condition on
social interactions, social connectedness, and trust that we
observed in Study 1. As in Study 1, participants who used their
phones talked to fewer people to obtain directions than partici-
pants who could not depend on their phones, t(153.94) ¼12.67,
p<.001. Again, over 80% of people in the phone condition searched
for the building without ever talking to anybody, while less than
10% did so in the phoneless condition. Replicating our central
ﬁnding from Study 1, we found that people in the phone condition
felt less socially connected than those in the phoneless condition,
t(180) ¼2.80, p¼.006. There was, however, no effect of condition
on trust, t(172.67) ¼.05, p¼.96 (Table 2).
4.3.3. Countervailing effects of technology on mood
Participants in the phone condition reported more positive mood
compared to those in the phoneless condition, t(167.14) ¼2.21,
p¼.03 (Table 2). Still, using mediational analyses through PROCESS
for SPSS21 (Hayes, 2013), we explored whether the social costs
associated with relying on phones may have limited the emotional
beneﬁts that phones conferred. Replicating the ﬁndings of Study 1,
we found that relying on phones had both a negative effect on mood
through lower social connectedness and a positive effect on mood
through reduced difﬁculty (see Fig. 2). After accounting for the role
of social connectedness and difﬁculty, condition did not signiﬁ-
cantly predict mood.
4.3.4. Exploratory measures
We found no signiﬁcant effects of condition on our exploratory
measures of agency, communion, sense of community, energetic
arousal, or interest/enjoyment p's >.14 (see Table 2). Compared to
those in the phoneless condition, participants who could rely on
their phones felt less tense arousal, t(180) ¼3.80, p<.001, and
more self-sufﬁcient, t(163.71) ¼2.43, p¼.02.
4.3.5. Meta-analysis of studies 1 and 2
Next, we conducted a meta-analysis across Studies 1 and 2 (see
Table 2). This meta-analysis conﬁrmed that participants in the
phone (vs. phoneless) condition were less likely to interact with
other people and ended up feeling less socially connected. At the
same time, relying on phones made it much easier to ﬁnd the
building, resulting in a small net positive effect on mood across the
two studies. Out of our exploratory measures, we found two sig-
niﬁcant meta-analytic effects of condition, whereby people who
relied on their phones felt less tense and more self-sufﬁcient.
5. General discussion
In an initial study and a larger direct replication, we found the
ﬁrst experimental evidence that relying on smartphones for infor-
mation may compromise opportunities for social connection.
Compared to people who were not allowed to use their phones to
ﬁnd a building, those who could rely on their phones talked to
fewer people and ended up feeling less socially connected. Of
course, phones also conferred an important beneﬁt by reducing the
difﬁculty of this everyday task, with positive downstream conse-
quences for participants’overall mood. This beneﬁcial effect on
mood, however, was partially undercut by the insidious effect of
phone use on social connection.
Social connection has earned a prominent place in the pantheon
of essential psychological needs (e.g., Baumeister &Leary, 1995;
Ryan &Deci, 2000), but theory and research have traditionally
focused on the role of close relationships in promoting this basic
human need (e.g., Nelson, Kushlev, &Lyubomirsky, 2013; Reis et al.,
2000; Ryff, 1989). Our ﬁndings add to a growing body of research
documenting the surprising power of casual interactions with ac-
quaintances and strangers to make people feel more socially con-
nected (Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014a &2014b; Wesselmann, Cardoso,
Slater, &Williams, 2012). Interestingly, both theory (e.g., media
richness theory, media naturalness theory; Daft &Lengel, 1986;
Kock, 2004) and research (e.g., Kross et al., 2013; Park et al., 2016;
Verduyn, Ybarra, R
esibois, Jonides, &Kross, 2017) suggest that
computer-mediated communication does not provide an
Fig. 1. Indirect effects of relying on phones on emotional well-being through social
connectedness and difﬁculty of ﬁnding the building (Study 1).Notes. All b's repre-
sent unstandardized regression coefﬁcients obtained through bootstrapping using
50,000 resamples (Hayes, 2013). The range in brackets represents the 95% conﬁdence
interval of the indirect effect.
Fig. 2. Indirect effects of relying on phones on emotional well-being through so-
cial connectedness and difﬁculty of ﬁnding the building (Study 2).Notes. All b's
represent unstandardized regression coefﬁcients obtained through bootstrapping us-
ing 50,000 resamples (Hayes, 2013). The range in brackets represents the 95% conﬁ-
dence interval of the indirect effect.
K. Kushlev et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e7472
equivalent substitute for real, face-to-face social interactions. Going
beyond past research, our ﬁndings demonstrate that when tech-
nology supplants even trivial face-to-face social interactions, peo-
ple can miss out on opportunities to satisfy their basic need for
This ﬁnding is important given that new technologies are
increasingly poised to replace casual social interactions. In 2016, for
example, Starbucks added a feature to its app that enables cus-
tomers to place orders through their smartphones, rather than
waiting in line and placing an order with the barista. While this
new method of obtaining one's morning dose of caffeine is more
convenient and efﬁcient, it potentially obviates the need to talk to
any actual people. Our ﬁndings suggest that this might lead cus-
tomers to miss out on an easy opportunity to cultivate a sense of
connection while getting their coffee. By appreciating the value of
social connection, organizations and designers can consider how to
deploy new technologies in ways that are sensitive to psychological
needs. For example, although Starbucks could maximize conve-
nience by placing mobile orders near the entrancedallowing cus-
tomers to grab their drinks and go without talking to anyonedour
research points to the value of placing the drinks near a friendly
barista who could brieﬂy greet customers, thereby balancing con-
venience with connection.
More broadly, our research underscores the importance of
considering what might be lost in the immediate (i.e., non-digital)
social environment when people engage in digital activities. Recent
research has shed light on the psychological consequences of
engaging in speciﬁc activities from Facebook to email (e.g., Kross
et al., 2013; Kushlev &Dunn, 2015; Park et al., 2016), but almost
no research has examined how these activities affect and are
affected by the immediate social context. Checking Facebook dur-
ing a business trip, for example, might make a working mother feel
more connected to her family and friends back homedbut check-
ing Facebook during a family dinner might produce the opposite
effect. Thus, future research should examine when digital behav-
iordfrom information consumption to computer-mediated com-
municationdcomplements or interferes with the psychological
beneﬁts people can gain from their nondigital environment. This
research goal is particularly pressing given that improvements in
sensor technology may soon enable smartphones to automatically
adapt their settings according to the social context (e.g., disabling
notiﬁcations during family meals).
5.2. Limitations and future directions
We ﬁrst address two potential limitations of our methodology,
and then consider several key questions that remain to be
addressed by future research. First, given the intense cultural
speculation surrounding smartphones, our studies could have been
subject to possible demand characteristics: Participants in the
phone condition may have reported lower social connection due to
their beliefs about the detrimental effects of technology. But when
we presented a separate sample of 102 participants with a
description of the task faced by participants in either the phone
condition or the phoneless condition, no differences emerged in
how socially connected they expected to feel.
These ﬁndings cast
doubt on the possibility that our main ﬁndings could be explained
by demand characteristics. Second, although we only included
participants who reported following our instructions to use (or not
use) their phones, we lacked an objective measure of compliance.
Of course, because we locked participants' phones away in the
phoneless condition, we can be certain that they did not access
their own phones. Still, it is conceivable that participants could
have borrowed someone else's phone, but such noncompliance
would have only diluted our effects.
The present research has several additional limitations,
providing important directions for future research. First, our reli-
ance on convenience samples of younger users limits our conclu-
sions mostly to people who grew up with smartphones. Future
research should examine whether people who grew up in a world
without smartphones would be more likely to seek information
from strangers even when they have access to their phones. Second,
our conclusions are limited to situations in which people are
looking for concrete information, such as the location of a building.
It would be interesting to explore whether people are more likely to
rely on others when looking for more subjective information, such
as recommendations for restaurants, caf
es, or bars. Third, in
contrast to our other measures, our measure of trust showed low
internal consistency (perhaps due to the small number of items).
This might help to explain our inconsistent results on trust across
the two studies; it would therefore be worthwhile for future
research to include longer measures of trust. Fourth, we did not
include personality measures such as extraversion, which could
have moderated the effects of experimental condition. Interest-
ingly, recent research shows that even introverts beneﬁt from
acting in extraverted ways (e.g., Fleeson, Malanos, &Achille, 2002;
Sandstrom &Dunn, 2014b), but that introverts may underestimate
these beneﬁts (Zelenski et al., 2013). This points to the hypothesis
that introverts may be especially inclined to relyon their phones for
information, making them especially vulnerable to declines in so-
cial connectedness due to missed opportunities to engage with
Finally, in interpreting our results, it is important to note that we
intentionally conducted these studies in a context where people
could safely and effectively navigate the situation either by relying
on technology or other people. We would not expect our results to
extend to situations in which other people are unavailable or un-
willing to help. That said, recent research suggests that people may
often underestimate strangers’willingness to engage in casual so-
cial interactions. Far from the idyllic setting of a college campus,
people taking public transit in Chicago were instructed to try
talking to a stranger on their commute (Epley &Schroeder, 2014).
Although participants predicted that less than half of their fellow
commuters would be willing to talk to them, no one actually re-
ported getting snubbed. Chatting with strangers also provided an
emotional boost that people failed to foresee. Likewise, Flynn and
Lake (2008) found that individuals systematically underestimated
how willing strangers would be to help them in response to a va-
riety of in-person requests for information or other assistance.
Because seeking information from phones (vs. other people)
eliminates the perceived risk of social rejection, individuals may be
overly inclined to rely on technologydthereby missing out on op-
portunities for social connection across a broad range of contexts.
Over 100 years ago, French philosopher Guillaume Ferrero
postulated the Principle of Least Effort: Organisms tend to seek the
easiest way to achieve the greatest outcome (Ferrero, 1894). Our
ﬁndings provide evidence for the social costs of the Principle of
Least Effort. By easily accessing information on smartphones, peo-
ple may forgo opportunities to foster a sense of connection through
casual social interactions.
Funding: This work was supported by the Social Sciences and
Data available at: http://tinyurl.com/Directions-Forecaster-Data.
K. Kushlev et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 76 (2017) 68e74 73
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