Study Confirms that You're Making Everyone Miserable by Checking Your Phone at Dinner

Now that there's evidence that you're being a jerk, will you please stop scrolling through your Instagram feed?

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Feb 28 2018, 1:00pm

Photo: Dan Porges/Getty Images

If you had a mediocre dinner or felt completely meh about brunch last weekend, it might not have anything to do with the tacos or the avocado toast. It might be your phone’s fault.

According to psychology researchers from the University of British Columbia, people who focus on their smartphones while sharing a meal with their friends or family had an all-around less-enjoyable time than people who, you know, didn’t act like dicks.

In their study, the team sent 304 people to a cafe with their friends or family, and the participants were randomly instructed to either leave their phones on the table (which they totally would’ve done anyway) or to put them away while everyone ate. The group who were allowed to use their phones were required to answer a survey question on their phones that was texted to them while they ordered; the phoneless group was given the same question to answer on a piece of paper. Afterwards, both groups were asked to rate their experience and to report how much they enjoyed it. The researchers learned that those who kept their phones out reported being more distracted and (surprisingly) more bored than the participants who kept their phones out of sight and, as a group, they reported being less satisfied with the overall experience.

"As useful as smartphones can be, our findings confirm what many of us likely already suspected," lead study author and psychology PhD student Ryan Dwyer told Science Daily. “When we use our phones while we are spending time with people we care about—apart from offending them—we enjoy the experience less than we would if we put our devices away.”

Psychology professor and study co-author Elizabeth Dunn echoed Dwyer’s findings, saying that there’s a “real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away” during social situations.

And she’s probably right, although not many of us are doing that. In the introduction to their study, the psychologists cited a depressing Pew Research statistic which reported that 90 percent of smartphone users reported using their devices during their most recent social activity.

And according to a survey of 5,000 Americans commissioned by Nutrisystem, 29 percent of respondents said that their smartphones are there for every single meal, while more than half of those surveyed said they scrolled through their phones during “most” meals. (17 percent of people said that they never use their phones while they eat, which means that either 17 percent of them are 14-years-old and grounded, or they’re all liars).

In 2012, researchers at the University of Essex in England discovered that just having a phone on the table could negatively impact conversations and feelings of connection between individuals, making it less likely that they would have “meaningful” conversations. "The presence of a mobile phone may orient individuals to thinking of other people and events outside their immediate social context,” lead researcher Andrew Przybylski told The Telegraph . “In doing so, they divert attention away from a presently occurring interpersonal experience to focus on a multitude of other concerns and interests.”

Sure, we’ve all been psychologically programmed to constantlly check our phones, but it’s not too late to free your mind for your own sake and the sake of whatever poor chap you’re splitting appetizers with. Instagram doesn’t need any more food pictures, anyway.