What mobile phone usage means to people with OCD

Posted 2 months ago by David McManus
How frequently do you check your phone? [Source: Shutterstock]
How frequently do you check your phone? [Source: Shutterstock]

Problematic smartphone use affects people differently and disability could be a factor. New research has highlighted the link between people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and habitual and problematic use.

Key points:

  • Problematic smartphone use is defined as the inability to control the time spent on smartphones, potentially impacting a person’s quality of life and overall well-being
  • A new study has found that people who test more strongly for symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as ‘OCD,’ are more likely to show signs of PSU
  • People with OCD are aware of their intrusive impulses and try to prevent them, whereas people with OCPD can negatively impact the lives of others and are not self-aware


Students and a professor at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College found that smartphone usage can increase and even become unhealthy for those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as ‘OCD.’

OCD is characterised by ‘obsessions’ and ‘compulsions,’ meaning intrusive and persistent thoughts or repetitive and ritualistic actions that are often carried out despite the person’s awareness of their inappropriate context.

OCD affects two to three percent of the population — more than 500,000 Australians; It usually begins in late childhood or early adolescence.

UC Blue Ash undergraduate students Kaley Aukerman, Madi Kenna and Ryan Padgett recently co-authored the research that was published online in Current Psychology. Their research uncovered the association between study participants who tested highly for clinical OCD characteristics and their problematic smartphone usage.

UC Blue Ash Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Holte, PhD, noted that there was a link between a fear of missing out and a tendency to feel boredom that influenced the relationship between OCD and PSU.

“There is a theoretical model known as ‘compensatory internet use theory’ and it suggests that people will compensate for negative emotions by using technology,” Holte said.


“Individuals who have OCD desire certainty. So, they might have a fear related to their OCD that they can use their phone to check and confirm or deny that fear.


The study also shows the domino effect that can occur by theorising OCD predicted how feelings of boredom, fear of missing out and inhibitory anxiety can lead to frequently checking one’s phone.

The research conducted by the students opened new avenues for researching people with OCD and how they can be impacted by their smartphone use, along with how smartphone use can become an addiction.

Holte felt positively about the reception of the research to be picked up by academic journal Current Psychology and how quickly it was accepted for publication.

“It is really rare for undergrad students to get published, just because the publication process typically takes a long time,” Holte said, “I think my first publication took two or three years after I submitted.”

The next steps for the students and the professor will be to study how some people turn to smartphones as an alternative to dealing with reality, while others consider it to be a burden that demands their attention.

One of the diagnostic indicators of OCD is that acting on the compulsions takes up more than an hour out of their day and is not attributable to other disorders, such as Tourette syndrome, body dysmorphia or generalised anxiety disorder.

Problematic smartphone use is linked, to some extent, to screen time. The average daily screen time for each teenager on a smartphone exceeds three hours and 49 minutes, with a quarter of teenagers using a smartphone for more than five and a half hours daily.

For Aukerman, Kenna and Padgett, having the research published allowed them to get involved with the research process and learn how to document their findings.

“The really big jump is getting used to scientific literature and being able to write and format it, because it’s not your simple conversation,” Padgett said.

“Professor Holte was really good in helping us take our research and describe it in detail, in the sort of way that is expected for scientific research.”

Padgett is studying neuroscience with plans to eventually pursue a master’s degree in psychology or neuropsychology.


Interested in learning more about anxiety disorders and how to receive support in Australia? Please check out some of the articles linked below and subscribe to the Talking Disability newsletter to learn more about news, information and NDIS updates.


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