Cell phones and their advanced version — smartphones have become a common attribute of a modern human. Only a limited fraction of the population had access to mobile communication at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. In the modern era, almost everyone has a smartphone, and people are generally expected to be available at all times. One can logically guess that this availability can interfere with moments of intimacy, for instance, when an individual expects full attention from their romantic partner. Research by Kelly et al. attempted to evaluate the exact impact of cell phones on romantic relationships through the expectance violations theory (EVT). This theory consists of three main components: expectancies from communication, valence judgment assigned when behavior deviates from expected, and communicator reward value (Kelly et al. 621). The last component defines whether the other part of the conversation is rewarding based on their personality, status, and physical attractiveness.
Using the EVT framework, the researchers tried to determine specific contexts of cell phone use with positive or negative valence. They also set extra research goals, such as evaluation of the cell phone usage frequency, its perception as expectancy violation, and the impact of perceived rewardingness. In addition, Kelly et al. attempted to identify the effect of context on expectancy violation perception and the most likely communicative responses to it. In simpler words, EVT was applied to determine the exact impact of cell phones on communication between romantic partners.
The study started from sample selection, which consisted of 225 volunteers who were in current romantic relationships. Among the participants, 186 were females and 39 — males, all within the 23-35 age group (Kelly et al. 626). At the first stage, they completed an anonymous survey consisting of demographic information and EVT-based questions with ratings. When the data collection phase finished, the researchers converted the gathered results into 5-point items. These items were averaged in order to create respective rewardingness, expectedness, valence, and behavior typicality indexes. In addition to these scores, Kelly et al. composed a list of constructive and destructive communicative responses and calculated cell phone and relationships satisfaction indexes.
The study provided multiple findings related to the initial research questions. The respondents were dissatisfied with cell phone usage in situations when they expected attention from their partner, regardless of whether at home or in public (Kelly et al. 631). The stories with positive valence usually included minimum cell phone usage or doing something on the phone together, for example — checking social media or watching Internet memes. In addition to these results, the respondents reported that cell phone usage by their romantic partners was a typical, generally expected, and neutrally valenced behavior. Perceived rewardingness of the partner was significantly lowered by cell phone usage in situations with negative valence judgment. The most common communicative responses to cell phone usage were doing or saying nothing or going on one’s own phone (Kelly et al. 632). Finally, the cell phone satisfaction index was significantly affected by cases of negative behavior and impacted satisfaction with romantic relationships.
The researchers admitted several limitations of their study, stemming from the available research sample. First of all, there is an evident disproportion in participants’ gender. Male respondents volunteered much more reluctantly, so the study mostly answered the questions from the female point of view. Another shortcoming lies in the underrepresentation of more casual, short-term relationships because most participants were in long-term exclusive relationships. Since the research instruments used in the study look solid, an application of this methodology to a more diverse sample would create a better representation of cell phones’ impact on romantic relationships.
In a broader sense, the findings confirm that cell phone usage in inappropriate circumstances may be harmful for interpersonal communication. The study provided empirical evidence that even the individuals born in the younger generations do not react kindly when their romantic partners pay too much attention to a cell phone. Cell phones may be considered an integral part of modern life; however, people still do not like when their romantic partners check sports scores or social media feeds during the date. In that regard, the study gives valuable insights, especially for young males who might be wondering why their partners look indifferent or offended.
The issue highlighted by the researchers confirms that interpersonal verbal and non-verbal communication remains vital even in the modern world, where smartphones have become a part of everyday life. Their work strongly implies that being a caring, attentive person is even more critical in the age of electronic gadgets. If both partners have good manners and exercise patience, a smartphone can become an instrument of unity rather than the source of discord. In that regard, the lessons on digital literacy and, particularly, ethical cell phone usage might become a welcome addition to school programs.
In the end, I would like to commend the researchers for an attempt to provide a non-biased look at the situation. The authors utilized solid research instruments and presented conclusions in a clear and well-structured manner. In my opinion, their findings confirmed that cell phones are merely technical devices rather than the root of all evil in interpersonal communication. Humans have always been the essential participants of any communication, and electronics cannot be blamed for the lack of essential manners or personality flaws.
Kelly, Lynne, et al. “Sports Scores and Intimate Moments: An Expectancy Violations Theory Approach to Partner Cell Phone Behaviors in Adult Romantic Relationships.” Western Journal of Communication, vol. 81, no. 5, 2017, pp. 619–640.