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A low attention span is linked to smartphone addiction, a survey says

One study found that the average person's attention span is shorter than a goldfish's

Emotional instability, extroversion can also influence usage

How many times a day do you check your smartphone?

According to a recent survey, the typical American checks once every 6½ minutes, or approximately 150 times every day. Other research has found that number to be as high as 300 times a day.

For young people, the attachment is particularly acute: 53 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 30 reported they would sooner give up their sense of taste than their smartphones.

These data strongly suggest that many may, indeed, be addicted to their smartphones. I’ve studied shopping addiction for 20 years and have a pretty good sense of when normal behaviors veer into unhealthy preoccupations. The fact that 80 to 90 percent of people use their phones while driving – which, by one estimate, causes 6,000 deaths and US$9 billion in damages annually – is a clear sign that something is amiss. And as a college professor, I’ve seen, firsthand, the overwhelming distraction caused by smartphones in the classroom.

Why do people risk their lives – or the lives of others – for the perfect selfie?

But I also wondered: Are some people more likely to become addicted to their smartphones than others? There’s a good body of research tying certain personality types to being prone to other addictions. Could a similar link exist for smartphone addiction?

A staggering commitment

First, I wanted to delve a bit further into the extent of the smartphone’s grip on our attention. So in 2014 I conducted research with several coauthors on the amount of time young people spent on their phones. We found that college students spend an average of 8 hours and 48 minutes on their smartphones each day (a figure that I still find mind-boggling).

This number joins a host of other findings that speak to an intense attachment: surveys have found that 79 percent of us reach for our phones within 15 minutes of waking, 68 percent sleep with them, 67 percent check our smartphones even when they’re not ringing or vibrating and 46 percent state that they “can’t live without their smartphones.”

Psychological tips for resisting the Internet’s grip

Yet there are still some who are less likely to become enraptured by the smartphone’s many trappings, who rarely use them or eschew them altogether. They’re at the other end of the spectrum from those who have lost control over their use, who exhibit some of the classic signs of addiction – salience, euphoria, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse – that I identified when researching my book on smartphone use, “Too Much of a Good Thing.”

To figure out what might make someone susceptible to smartphone addiction, I recently conducted a survey with my colleagues Chris Pullig and Chris Manolis to find out if people with certain personality traits were more or less likely to become addicted to their smartphones. Using a sample of 346 average American college students, we investigated which of seven personality traits might predict this disorder. We also measured how impulsive each student was.

A pacifier and a status symbol?