The dangers of phubbing


It’s normal to walk through a university campus and see students sitting together, ignoring each other in front of their smartphones, but not in Spain.

I am currently visiting the University of Navarra, where every time I pass the open space outside the Institute of Culture and Society I see the vast majority of students talking to each other without their phones in hand.

As Inés Olza, a linguist from the institute, explains: “In Spain people like to talk. For them, a conversation is a cooperative process; silence makes them uncomfortable.”

This is great news for these students, because ignoring people in favor of a phone – an act known as “phubbing” or phone nubbing – has serious consequences.

Earlier this month I published a book called The Psychology of Phubbing.

In it, I build on my previous research on phubbing and synthesize findings from 170 other studies – mostly on the effects of phubbing in important relationships such as with partners, supervisors, friends and family members.

The research shows how serious phubbing can be.

It’s nice to see students from the University of Navarra get together and talk without their phone getting in the way.

Phubbing trends

People phub in all situations: on the commute, in cafes, while waiting for the bus, during work meetings, in restaurants, at the dinner table and in bed.

They usually phub others to browse the web, check their banking app, use Google maps and of course to check social media.

People are more likely to phub the ones closest to them. For example, study participants phubbed most to their partners, followed by their closest friends, siblings, children, and parents.

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Younger people phub more than older people, but there was no noticeable difference between how often men and women phub.

These are the consequences of phubbing your children, partners, staff, friends and relatives.


When parents phubd their kids, it sent the message that their parents weren’t interested in them.

The lack of acceptance in the children made them feel rejected and socially excluded. This was associated with lower life satisfaction and more anxiety and depression.

Phubbed children were more likely to become addicted to their smartphones and exhibit hostile behavior online, such as by cyberbullying their peers.

Some even had an academic burnout.


In partnerships, phubbing led to more conflict related to smartphone use.

It often made the phubbed partner feel left out, resulting in less intimacy, decreased relationship satisfaction, and in turn led to decreased life satisfaction.

In some cases, phubbed partners were jealous because they were afraid that their partner would romantically chase someone else.

This increased their anxiety and depression and decreased their well-being.

Phubbed partners would also spend an inordinate amount of time on social media, possibly to regain some of the attention lost due to their partner’s smartphone habit.

Staff members

In workplace environments, a boss phubbing their employees reduced the employees’ trust in their boss.

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This led to lower engagement with their work, decreased job satisfaction, and poorer overall performance.

Phubbing made employees feel socially excluded, reduced their motivation and even threatened their self-esteem.

To get revenge, employees resorted to the internet at work.

What’s worse is that if you get pushed by a boss, employees will phubble other co-workers.

Family and friends

Being phubbed by a family member violated the phubber’s expectations and made them feel like they didn’t matter to the phubber.

This weakened their bond with the phubber, decreased their life satisfaction and increased their loneliness and depression.

In a similar vein, phubbed friends felt socially disconnected.

This decreased their friendship satisfaction and life satisfaction and – again – increased their anxiety and depression.

Phubbed friends were also driven to draw attention on social media.

People who are phubed by their friends are more likely to turn to social media for attention. Photo: Getty

How to reduce phubbing?

If there is someone in your life who phubs you, you should try to bring it up calmly.

This can be as simple as saying, “Hey, can I please have your attention?”

But this can only stop the operation once.

If it keeps happening – which is more likely if the phubber is addicted to their phone and/or social media – you need to have a more considered conversation.

Explain how phubbed affects you and why it needs to stop.

It can also help to establish ground rules about phone use when you’re together. For example, parents may set rules about using phones while eating and partners may decide to put their phones away before going to bed.

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If you’re concerned that you might be a phubber, think long and hard about how you use your phone around others. If you catch yourself phubbing, stop and commit to avoid it in the future.

If you are with someone and absolutely must phuben, do so as thoughtfully as possible.

You could say, “Sorry, I need to check/send this quickly”, or “This is urgent”. And try to keep it short. These small actions can go a long way in reducing the effect of phubbing on the phubbing person.

If your phubbing is spiraling out of control, you may have a problematic dependence on your smartphone and/or social media — or you may have a boss who expects you to work all the time.

Call for volunteers

Researchers don’t really know the effects of phubbing on family members other than partners and children.

My colleagues and I are conducting a study on the impact on parents being phubd by their children.

If this applies to you, help us learn more.

We also investigate the consequences of young people being pushed by their friends. If you are between the ages of 18 and 24, please consider taking part in our survey.

Associate Professor Yeslam Al-Saggaf, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The conversation