iPhone Addiction Disorder | Mental Health Blog

iPhone Elicits True Love


Somewhere in my personal jumble of photos, there’s one showing me with a line-up of friends, all proudly holding up our new iPhones. I will admit, on closer inspection, my expression looks rather goofy, even smitten. In fact, as several recent studies show, most iPhone users can relate to that smitten feeling. The phones typically do evoke a true love reaction in their owners — a love that actually resembles the feeling one gets for an intimate partner. And, the studies show, love for the iPhone often develops into a full-blown addiction. (I can’t wait to see the remake of Fatal Attraction.)

One of the studies asked 200 students at Stanford University to describe their relationship to their iPhones.1 Seventy-five percent of the respondents admitted that they slept with their iPhone next to them in bed. (I’m hoping that actually means on the nightstand next to the bed, rather than literally on the bed beside them. But when you read the study, it doesn’t sound like it.) Forty-four percent confessed that they were quite addicted to their phones, and 90 percent admitted to some level of addiction.  Forty-one percent said that if they lost their iPhone, it would be “a tragedy” (which means an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe). Only 10 percent said they weren’t addicted at all, while seven percent reported that their roommates felt neglected because of the iPhone coming between them. Nine percent said they had “patted” their iPhones, and eight percent believed their iPod was jealous of their iPhone.2 (Now I may be wrong here, but I’d be willing to bet the eight percent were yanking the researchers’ chains on this answer.)

Of course, this isn’t a highly reliable study given that the respondents all were students, all at Stanford (which arguably attracts a certain type of student), and the sample size was so small. And yet, other small studies seem to support these results. An article in The New York Times by branding consultant Martin Lindstrom cites his own studies done in conjunction with the company MindSign Neuromarketing of San Diego.3 The researchers in that endeavor took MRI brain scans of subjects who listened as their iPhones rang. The scans showed activation in the brain region associated with love and compassion. In fact, the subjects reacted to the ringing phones in the same way they would be expected to react to their partners.  Mr. Lindstrom also used MRI to compare brain scans of subjects looking at photos of Apple products with scans of subjects looking at images of the Pope and other religious icons. Guess what? He found the results “uncannily similar.”

These sorts of results led several psychiatrists in China to coin a new diagnostic category for a condition they labeled IAD, or iPhone Addiction Disorder. One of the psychiatrists, Dr. Kuang-hui Lee of Taipei, believes that IAD has become more prevalent than the also worrisome CAD, or Computer Addiction Disorder. He cites the case of a high school student who used his iPhone day and night to the point of requiring hospitalization because he couldn’t part with his beloved phone for a moment. He also mentions a woman who surfed the internet even while driving, endangering herself and other motorists. I’ve written before that one in five adults admits to texting while driving, which means that a whole lot of people suffer from IAD according to Dr. Lee’s criteria.

In fact, IAD seems to be so prevalent that it may be changing the romantic landscape.  One study of 445 adults asked iPhone users what qualities made a person most attractive.4 The results showed that iPhone users believed “owning cool gadgets” made people three times as attractive as having a college degree. Thirty-four percent of the respondents said that having “old gadgets” is a turn off.

That same study also surveyed BlackBerry owners, who apparently are more old-school. The BlackBerry owners found college degrees more attractive than cool gadgets, but agreed that old technology simply wasn’t sexy. The study also found that a third of all iPhone users had used their devices to break up with someone by either texting or emailing them. In contrast, only 22 percent of BlackBerry owners had used that callous method to call it quits. But lest you think BlackBerry owners have a moral edge, consider another survey that found almost half of all BlackBerry owners plan to switch to an iPhone as soon as their current plan expires.5 They want in on all that cool, apparently. One can only imagine what a study of iPad users might find, given the passion owners seem to display when talking about their devices.

While these studies might seem to be rather frivolous in their thrust, some more serious research indicates disturbing facts about the impact of mobile phones on mental health. A British study of more than 2000 people, for instance, found that 58 percent of men and 48 percent of women actually suffer from symptoms of trauma when denied access to their phones, and nine percent experience severe stress even when they have to turn their phones off.6  Some experts contend that mobile phones have now carved out a place in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a system that defines what humans require in order to remain mentally sound. Things like food, shelter, and love also rank on that list.

The fact is that the world now spends inordinate amounts of time texting, typing, surfing, and talking on mobile devices — whether iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, iPads, or laptops. As I’ve written before, one-third of all teens in the US text more than 100 messages each day. The average child between the ages of eight and 18 spends 10 hours and 45 minutes online or plugged into entertainment media daily. All this attachment to technology no doubt takes a huge toll. First, there are the debatable concerns about exposure to EMFs. Then, research shows links between depression, sleep disorders, and excess time spent online or on mobile devices. Various studies have found that excessive media time leads to lower grades, behavioral problems, and obesity. Studies also show that kids who send more than 120 texts daily are 43% more likely to have been binge drinking, 41% more likely to have tried drugs, 3.5 times more likely to be sexually active and 90% more likely to have been with four or more sexual partners, compared to kids who text at a more moderate rate.

But tech addiction isn’t just for kids. Articles abound on the internet listing signs of addiction, including being distracted around friends because you want to play with your phone (or other device), checking your messages constantly, racking up more than 1000 messages, and losing it if your phone breaks or goes missing. If you fit the diagnosis, you might try going cold turkey at leaving the device at home for a while. If that doesn’t work, get some help.

Oh yeah, and remember that bet I offered you on the eight percent who believed their iPod was jealous of their iPhone? Fuhgeddaboudit! They weren’t kidding!


1 Ng, Amanda. “iPhone Turns Users into Junkies, Study Finds.” 09 March 2010. Huffington Post. 3 November 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/iphone-addiction-study-pa_n_490748.html>

2 Duboff, Josh. “iPhone Addiction is for Real, Says Stanford Study.” 8 August 2010. New York. 3 November 2011. < http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2010/03/iphone_addiction_is_for_real_s.html>

3 Lindstrom, Martin. “You Love Your iPhone. Literally.” 30 September 2011. The New York Times. 3 November 2011. < http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/opinion/you-love-your-iphone-literally.html?_r=2>

4 “iPhone vs. BlackBerry Owners: Your Phone Tells All.” 28 October 2009. Retrevo. 3 November 2011. <http://www.retrevo.com/content/blog/2009/10/iPhone-vs-BlackBerry-owners>

5 “40  Percent of BlackBerry Owners Would Switch to an iPhone: Study.” 15 March 2010. Huffington Post. 3 November 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/15/blackberry-users-would-sw_n_499885.html>

6 “iPhone Addiction: How to Tell if You’re Addicted to the Device.” The Optimist. 3 November 2011. <http://optimist.posterous.com/iphone-addiction-how-to-tell-if-youre-addicte>

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