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A study released last week tried to find out just how much college students prefer their smartphones over eating food – and the researchers were astounded at the results.

“We were very surprised by the results,” said University of Buffalo clinical psychology doctoral student Sara O’Donnell.

In the study, students were given two and three hour time periods where they could read newspapers without their smartphones or eat food. Then the students were given an assignment where they could earn time with their smartphones, or allowed to eat food.

The researchers found that students preferred their smartphones over food by a large margin. The authors of the study found that when they deprived students of their smartphones, they were more motivated to work to earn time with their smartphone. The students were willing to part with money more readily than to give up their phones.

The study reveals that in surveys and measuring the amount of “work” students were willing to perform for either reward (phone or food) that they were much more motivated to choose their smartphones.

O’Donnell says this “reinforcing” characteristic of smartphones drives her theory that the devices produce behavior similar to addiction in the students tested.

“Research is just beginning to investigate the possibility that smartphone addiction exists,” O’Donnell explained.

“While reinforcing value does not equate to addiction,” added O’Donnell, “it seems likely that if smartphone addiction becomes a valid diagnosis, those individuals would have high smartphone reinforcement, just as individuals with alcohol use disorders have high alcohol reinforcement.”

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