Bringing your mobile phone to the dinner table can do damage to personal relationships, even if it's not being used, researchers say.
Studies showed if a mobile phone is visible during a conversation, it causes individuals to feel less positive towards the person they are chatting to.
Psychologists who carried out two separate studies at Essex University said the presence of a mobile phone automatically triggers thoughts of our wider social networks, reducing the level of empathy and understanding we apply to our face-to-face conversation.
Lead researcher Andrew Przybylski said mobiles can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality.
"The presence of a mobile phone may orient individuals to thinking of other people and events outside their immediate social context.
"In doing so, they divert attention away from a presently occurring interpersonal experience to focus on a multitude of other concerns and interests."
In the first study, a team of psychologists asked 37 pairs of strangers to spend ten minutes chatting to each other about something interesting that happened to them the past month. The participants sat on chairs in a private booth and a mobile phone was placed on a desk nearby for half of them. For the other half, a notebook was left in the same place instead of a mobile.
After their conversations, all those involved answered questions about the person they had met and these were scored using standard psychological assessment models.
Researchers found that those who had the mobile phone nearby were significantly less positive about the person they had just met than the other participants.
They were less likely to agree with statements such as "it is likely that my partner and I could become friends if we interacted a lot".
In a second study involving another 34 pairs of strangers, some were asked to chat about a mundane topic while others had to talk about "the most meaningful events of the past year". As in the first study, half of the pairs chatted with a mobile phone placed nearby and half with a notebook in the same position.
Having a "meaningful" conversation rather than a mundane one increased the feelings of closeness and trust in their partner for participants in the notebook group.
But the same effect did not occur among those who had a mobile phone lying nearby, the authors report in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
"These results demonstrate that the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships, an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics," they wrote.
- DAILY MAIL