Mobile phones don’t add to stress, researchers say

Published 10 December 2009

mobilephonesThe common belief that mobile phones make life more stressful is wrong, according to new research findings; in fact, they may make us feel less rushed.

Three academics studied the way that 1,083 Australians used their mobile phones and found that those using them most did not feel more pressed for time.

In a paper in the journal Work, Employment and Society, published this week by the British Sociological Association and SAGE, the researchers say that mobile phone use gave the users a greater flexibility about schedules.

The study was carried out by Professor Michael Bittman and Judith Brown from the University of New England in Australia and Professor Judy Wajcman from the London School of Economics in the UK. They got 1,083 people living in Australia to complete a questionnaire and a log of their phone activity using the data on their SIM cards.

In their paper the researchers report that those who used the phones most frequently during both work and leisure time felt no more stress than infrequent users.

Mobile phones could allow us to organise our days better by allowing us to rearrange meetings at short notice, giving us more time, they argue. “Phoning ahead relaxes the formerly inflexible scheduling of a pre-arranged rendezvous,” their paper says. “It seems plausible that this new flexibility of arrangements could contribute to a sense of being less rushed or pressed for time.

“The extra flexibility afforded by mobile communications may be more than sufficient to offset any sense of being harried arising from the increased possibility of being contacted.”

The paper reports that almost none of those studied used their mobile phones for work purposes during their leisure time. This was despite the fact that, as the researchers say, “in principle, a person with a mobile phone is always available”. Their new research contradicts the argument that mobile phones extend work beyond the workplace into the places and times normally reserved for families and leisure.

They found that only 21 per cent of calls on the mobile phones studied related to work and that 40 per cent were to contact family and 21 per cent for friends. The work-related calls were almost always made during working hours – 8 am to 5 pm – and only 3 per cent of work-related calls were made after 7 pm.

“This low rate of work-related use out of standard hours suggests that something other than the mobile phone is extending work hours,” the researchers say. “An analysis of diary data also offers little support for the proposition that mobile phones are a work-extending device.”