Imitation induced by the use of smartphones: a study by the University of Pisa

A distracted friend starts looking at the smartphone screen and exactly the second later we take our cell phone and imitate its behavior. Who among us can say that we did not do it during a dinner or a simple outing? The University of Pisa has studied the phenomenon of the so-called imitation induced by the smartphone screen .

watching the smartphone induces transmissible imitation
Looking at the smartphone induces transmissible imitation

Smartphone and imitation: the research of the Pisan university

There are biological phenomena that manage to create greater connection, familiarity and confidence between the stakeholders: among these the most famous are laughing and yawning. In fact, you will surely have happened to yawn a few seconds after a friend of yours. From today, after the research of the Pisan university, another one is added: looking at the smartphone screen.

The experiment published in the "journal of Ethology" states that it takes only thirty seconds to create the phenomenon of "digital" contagiousness , regardless of the age, familiarity and gender of the people involved. The research subjects were unknowingly subjected to two different stimuli. In the first test, the researchers manipulated and looked directly at the illuminated screen of the smartphone, in the second case they limited themselves to using the mobile phone, pointing away from the screen. The team from the University of Pisa analyzed the response of the protagonists of the study to the two impulses.

It only takes 30 seconds to induce digital contagiousness
It only takes 30 seconds to induce digital contagiousness

The result of the research showed that in the first case, due to attention, people took their smartphone after thirty seconds, which does not happen in the second test. In conclusion, it can be said that the use of the telephone alone does not induce a phenomenon of spontaneous mimicry, but continuous attention to the screen is necessary.

Laughing, yawning and looking at the smartphone: different spontaneous mimic phenomena

If yawning and laughing in a group serve to increase the development of interpersonal relationships and connection, looking at the smartphone screen is instead a biological event of spontaneous alienating mimicry . Laughing and yawning increase our integration in a group, while observing the illuminated screen is alien to reality. We can say that they are two sides of the same coin. Our attention in the space of 30 seconds passes from observing another human being to the screen of our mobile phone. Once again the power of our smartphones is confirmed.

Emotional contagion: does it only concern humans?

Humans can be involved in the phenomenon of spontaneous mimicry due to various reasons. The subjects can be in the same situation for example both tired or attracted to the same comic scene. A second cause is due to induced contagiousness. But it is not only human beings who are involved in this phenomenon. A study confirms the presence of this interaction and interconnection even among chimpanzees, bonobos and wolves.

Research from Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center found that yawning is caused by the subjects' attunement and familiarity. The study highlights that there is greater empathy among chimpanzees who share the yawn. Yerkes researchers Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waalhave carried out a test considering 23 adult chimpanzees. The result of the research also shows that the phenomenon is more widespread among subjects of the same social group. The same connection occurs for pain and laughter.

Our findings support the idea that contagious yawning can be used as a measure of empathy, because the biases we observed were similar to the previously seen empathy biases in humans.

Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waalhave

Empathy is difficult to measure directly because it is a largely internal response: mimicking another's emotional response. Contagious yawning allows for a measurement of the empathic response that is purely behavioral and therefore can be applied more widely.

Matthew Campbell

The article Imitation induced by the use of smartphones: a study by the University of Pisa comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .