A third-person perspective on phubbing: Observing smartphone-induced social exclusion generates negative affect, stress, and derogatory attitudes



Phubbing (phone-snubbing) has become a pervasive public communication phenomenon which adversely affects its targets and sources. Yet, research on phubbing is not built on a consistent theoretical basis and examinations on its effects on the public are still missing. This study aimed at addressing these research gaps by conceptualizing the behavior as an act of smartphone-induced social exclusion and investigating whether phubbing impacts its observers. In a between-subject experiment, N = 160 participants observed photos of dyadic interpersonal interactions in different everyday contexts which depicted one-sided, reciprocal, or no phubbing. Results revealed that observers of phubbing experienced negative affect and stress. Observers also derogated individuals who used their smartphones in social interactions regarding their warmth and competence; these effects were mediated by observers’ perceived relationship quality between the observed persons. Affective and cognitive outcomes emerged independently of observers’ gender. As these findings are in line with the effects and processes outlined in the temporal need-threat model of ostracism (i.e., social exclusion), they support the assumptions that phubbing is a form of smartphone-induced social exclusion and that its negative effects go beyond social interactions in which the behavior occurs. With this, the present study expands research regarding a modern communication phenomenon by strengthening its theoretical foundation and arriving at important theoretical and practical implications concerning targets, sources, and observers of phubbing.

Phubbing, social exclusion, social interaction, observer perspective, smartphone use, mobile technology, human-computer interaction, experimental research
Author biographies

Tania Roxana Nuñez

Institute of Psychology, University of Wuppertal

Theda Radtke

School of Psychology and Psychotherapy, Witten/Herdecke University

Sabrina Cornelia Eimler

Institute of Positive Computing, University of Applied Sciences Ruhr West


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