Losing smartphones may trigger PTSD symptoms in youngsters

Research finds youngsters begin fidgeting, scratching upon separation

Ians February 21, 2017


Three of four young adults are likely to exhibit symptoms like fidgeting or scratching, similar to those seen in people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), upon being separated from their smartphones.

New findings showed that young adults tend to get as stressed upon losing their phone as they get separating from parents, suggesting the growth of a 'nascent digital culture' where they are becoming more dependent than ever on their phones.

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"We are in the middle of a nascent digital culture, with children being born into the world of smart devices. The results support that humans form attachment toward their mobiles: they seek the proximity of the mobile and show stress response upon separation," researchers from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, said.

For the study, appearing in the journal Computers And Human Behaviour, the team conducted experiments on 87 smartphone owners aged between 18 and 26 in Budapest.

Each participant was kept in a room attached to heart monitors. They were given a laptop and a simple computerised maths test to complete, with assistance from the calculator on their phone.

Half of them were told to switch off their mobiles but keep them close, the rest had them removed and placed in a cupboard, while some were given different smartphones.

The analysis showed that those separated from their phones were more likely to display heartbeat patterns often associated with PTSD.

One in three of those left without a mobile exhibited displacement behaviour, such as fidgeting and scratching, which are telltale signs of stress. About 20% were drawn towards the cupboard.

Interestingly, the presence of an unfamiliar mobile decreased the effects of separation from their own mobile, similarly to the calming effect of a stranger on children who are separated from the caregiver, the researchers said.

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