People check their smartphones 85 times a day (and they don’t even know they’re doing it)

People use their smartphones for an average of five hours a day – about a third of the time they are awake – and check them about 85 times a day, new research suggests.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, developed an app for an exploratory study, led by Nottingham Trent University, to compare the amount of time participants estimated they spent on their smartphones with their actual usage. The University of the West of England and Lancaster University were also involved in the study.

The work, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, found that people were accessing their phones twice as often as they thought. The researchers argue that ‘rapid mobile phone interactions’ are becoming habitual for smartphone users.

The app was developed by PhD psychology student Heather Shaw from the University of Lincoln in conjunction with the Psych Sensor Lab* using online app builder funf in a box. It was installed on participants’ smartphones and recorded all their actual usage over a two week period. This included activities like checking the time, looking at message notifications or social media alerts, phone calls and playing music.

Twenty-three participants aged 18-33 were asked to estimate how much time they had spent on their phone, and how many times they checked their phone in a day.

Heather and undergraduate psychology student Libby-Rae Kendrick from the University of Lincoln developed the app and helped to collect and analyse data.

Heather said: “We were asking people to estimate a whole days’ worth of phone usage rather than short time periods. People could estimate how long they were using their phone for with some accuracy. However, estimating the number of times they checked their phone in a day was difficult for them to do.”

Researchers also found that smartphone use was typically confined to short bursts – more than half of uses lasted less than 30 seconds.

Dr Sally Andrews, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, who led the study said: “Our study has shed light on some important details in relation to people’s phone-checking behaviour.

“People have very little awareness of the frequency with which they check their phone. This is the first study to objectively demonstrate that some of our mobile phone interactions are habitual.

“It is important to note, however, that heavy users are not necessarily the same as problem users.”

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