Social smartphone apps do not capture attention despite their perceived high reward value


Smartphones have been shown to distract people from their main tasks (e.g., studying, working), but the psychological mechanisms underlying these distractions are not clear yet. In a preregistered experiment (, we tested whether the distracting nature of smartphones stems from their high associated (social) reward value. Participants (N = 117) performed a visual search task while they were distracted by (a) high social reward apps (e.g., Facebook app icon + notification sign), (b) low social reward apps (e.g., Facebook app icon), and (c) no social reward apps (e.g., Weather app icon). We expected that high social reward app icons would slow down search, especially when people were deprived of their smartphones. Surprisingly, high social reward (vs. low or no social reward) apps did not impair visual search performance, yet in a survey (N = 158) participants indicated to perceive these icons as more rewarding. Our results demonstrate that even if people perceive social smartphone apps as more rewarding than nonsocial apps, this may not manifest in behavior.

In Collabra Psychology
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Jonas Dora
Jonas Dora

Dr. Jonas Dora is a postdoc at the University of Washington.