Cx Researchers Tackle Smartphone Addiction


Image courtesy of Cornell Brand Communications

The allure of smartphones and their apps is a distraction for many - if not most - users. There are plenty of apps that can help users monitor their habits, set use goals, and even block access to "addicting" apps after certain time periods. But these are often ineffective, and their mechanisms are rarely supported by research. So what else can be done to curb app distractions and phone over-use?


A team of researchers at Cornell Tech, led by Cx faculty member Deborah Estrin, drew on principles from behavioral economics and psychology to solve the problem. They created a tool that caused users' phones to vibrate intermittently after they had spent more than their allotted time on their phone's Facebook app. In a controlled experiment, the negative reinforcement of the annoying vibration caused participants to reduce their Facebook time by 20% compared to those whose phones didn't vibrate.


Instead of blocking problematic apps outright, as other anti-phone-addiction tools do, behavioral interventions like these allow users the freedom to use apps as they choose. Instead, the negative reinforcement of the vibration nudges them in a more productive direction.


The research team presented their paper, entitled "Good vibrations: Can a digital nudge reduce digital overload?" at the ACM MobileHCI Conference in Barcelona in September 2018. Want to learn more? You can read more about the research at the Cornell Chronicle, and find the full text of the study on the ACM Digital Library.

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