Dinnertime Phone Use Makes You an Awful Person, Scientifically

New study shows that checking your phone ruins enjoyment of eating with others.

By Ethan L. Johns
February 28, 2018

Image: Westend61/Getty Images

You went through all that trouble, sent all those messages, found the perfect time and place for a meet-up… Might as well chat with one another, right? Wrong. Your annoying friend would rather scroll through their Instagram feed and or upload a photo of their latte to Twitter and revel in fame and glory as they watch the likes roll in. Are they an awful person?

Yes, yes they are.

A new study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology proved what we already knew: that the act of using your phone at the dinner table is extremely rude and detracts from the joy of dining for all parties involved. It also makes you feel more bored.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia organized their study to take place out in the real world, staging situations that we all probably know well. They asked over 300 people to take their friends and family out for a meal, and randomly told each person at the table to either keep their phone on the table or to silence it and put it in a container. To protect against bias, the surveyors told the phone-on group that they would be texted a survey to complete, while the phone-off group would be given a paper survey after dinner.

After reviewing the survey responses, the researchers discovered that the presence of the phone on the table resulted in reports of more feelings of distraction and less overall enjoyment of the dining experience. The team had also predicted that the phone would help with boredom during lulls in conversation. Instead, they found that a phone on the table actually led to increased levels of reported boredom. Go figure!

"This study tells us that, if you really need your phone, it's not going to kill you to use it,” senior researcher Elizabeth Dunn told ScienceDaily. “But there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you're spending time with friends and family."

So next time you’re out to eat, remember the wise advice from the researchers at the University of British Columbia. Put the phone out of sight. You’ll be more satisfied, less bored, more human and less of a garbage person.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns