A UGA study shows that conversations are most preferred over scrolling on a smartphone

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It turns out that people may prefer social interactions over their smartphones, but that doesn’t mean they won’t stop scrolling.

A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences found that participants found talking to be most enjoyable when asked to scroll on their phones, sit quietly or have a conversation with a stranger.

“When people are in the real world, they have these options,” said lead author and doctoral student Christina Lakefor. “We were interested in knowing how people compare their options, both in terms of how they expect to feel and how they actually feel after doing these things.”

To study these perceptions, researchers divided study participants into four groups. Two groups predicted how they would feel about different actions, and two groups completed the assigned actions. All groups then ranked the alternatives as least enjoyable. To measure emotions surrounding these tasks, all four groups rated how likely they were to experience positive or negative emotions from the task using a 0 to 100 scale.

“We thought people might underestimate how much they would enjoy talking to a stranger and how much they would enjoy using their smartphone,” Lakefour said. “But we couldn’t find it. During our study, people were more accurate at predicting how people would feel than we thought.”

Participants enjoy a conversation on the idea of ​​a smartphone

Emotional values ​​fell on the same spectrum between the groups who imagined and those who completed a task. When given three options – use a smartphone, sit alone or talk to a stranger – both groups had the highest positive emotional value in conversation. Using a smartphone was second and sitting alone was third.

Adding more options changed the results slightly.

After being given a specific smartphone task (watching a video, scrolling through social media, or texting) other than talking or sitting quietly, participants said they liked watching a video the most, followed by talking to a stranger, using social media, and then texting. Once again sitting alone came last.

Video viewing is preferred despite the emotional boost from conversation

A big difference, Lakefor said, came from the emotions associated with these tasks. Participants said they would prefer to use their smartphone in some capacity, but they found a higher mood boost after talking to a stranger. From an average baseline of 52.2 out of 100, conversations increased positive feelings by about 5 points to 57.68. In comparison, watching videos bumped 2.4-points to 54.62 and texting fell to 47.56.

“It surprised us that even though participants reported improved mood after talking to a stranger, they still ranked texting higher than talking to a stranger,” Lakefor said. “This may mean that people do not always recognize the potential benefits of communication, or that they do not prioritize that information. It also shows that experiencing something as pleasurable is not always enough to make us want to do it.”

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Sitting alone remains the least preferred activity

Across all measures, sitting alone came in last, and many rated it the lowest potential for positive emotions and the highest potential for negative emotions. This result could indicate that participants preferred activity or escape over isolation, Lekfour said, but it could also be a result of the study’s enforced isolation.

“Each study participant was instructed to spend that time alone,” Lakefour said. “They had no choice. Some previous research has shown that when people have a choice and freely choose to spend time alone, they enjoy it more than when it is forced upon them.”

Outside of a study, it can be difficult to think about and rank what options are available in your free time, Lekfour said, but these results underscore the importance of thinking before picking up a smartphone.

“In the real world, we don’t always consciously make these comparisons, even though you have all these choices,” she said. “But this study is based on the idea that maybe if you take the time to consciously think about different activities, you’re better at understanding how you feel about them.”

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