Hongkongers as stressed out by a smashed smartphone as by sitting an exam, study finds

Participants in study saw what they thought was their smartphone fall to the floor and break. ‘They were shocked and frozen ... a lot were very stressed,’ says lead researcher at University of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 12:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 4:23pm

How would you feel if a scientist asked to borrow your smartphone for an experiment, only to drop it and break it in front of your eyes?

If you were stressed, then you’re not alone – participants in the study found seeing their phone smashed caused more anxiety than taking an exam or even public speaking.

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It was part of a University of Hong Kong research project, sponsored by phone case company OtterBox, to determine how emotionally attached Hongkongers have become to their phones.

“We go through a lot of stress for major life events – divorce, family members passing away, but there are daily events which are known to be equally as stressful and are less studied,” says Tseng Chia-huei, an assistant professor in the university’s department of psychology who conducted the recent study.

To test stress levels of various events, participants were first told to complete a task while under pressure, then do a spot-the-difference test and engage in public speaking, before finally scientists asked them for their smartphone.

“Afterwards [scientists] prepared to hand back their smartphone but before they got their phone we actually dropped them in front of them, but it was actually a fake phone with a crack on the screen,” Tseng says.

“We then told them we were so sorry and showed it couldn’t be turned on. Then we measured their responses.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tseng says participants were pretty shocked to have their smartphone smashed in front of them.

“I didn’t hear a lot of swear words [but] they were shocked and frozen,” she says. “Then some people said, ‘You’ll pay me back, right’... we didn’t keep them in the dark for long.”

Participants’ stress responses were measured using their breathing and heart rate. There were 52 participants in the study, 24 of whom were from Hong Kong.

Tseng says Otterbox had helped design the questions for the study, but not the methodology, and had given participants a souvenir phone case.

“A lot of people were very stressed because they were saying all the things they didn’t back up, including their pictures,” she says.

Her conclusion? “A lot of people consider their smartphone a very important item in their daily life.”

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