Psychological Traits, Addiction Symptoms, and Feature Usage as Predictors of Problematic Smartphone Use Among University Students in China

Psychological Traits, Addiction Symptoms, and Feature Usage as Predictors of Problematic Smartphone Use Among University Students in China

Louis Leung (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong) and Jingwen Liang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7909-0.ch054
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This study investigates the effects of psychological traits (i.e., procrastination, leisure boredom, and impulsivity) and addiction symptoms on problematic smartphone use. Data were collected from a multistage random sample of 649 university students. The results showed that procrastination, impulsivity [including sensation seeking and (lack of) perseverance], symptoms of addiction (e.g., inability to control craving, withdrawal, and complaints), and frequent usage of smartphone features for instrumental, relational, expressive, and informational purposes were significant predictors of problematic smartphone use.
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New mobile technologies have influenced the daily lives of their users. According to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2015, nearly two-thirds of adults in the US own a smartphone, which is an increase of 35% since 2011 (Smith, 2015). The study revealed that although talking, texting, emailing, and going online were the primary applications, three-quarters of smartphone owners reported using their smartphones for social media, 60% took pictures or a video, about 50% watched videos, 47% played online games, and 41% consulted maps. It is also interesting to note that about 46% of smartphone owners reported that their smartphone is something “they couldn’t live without.” Today, mobile phones are indispensable and their use is widespread in Chinese society. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (2014) of the People’s Republic of China, the adoption rate of mobile phones in Mainland China was 94.5%, and about 85.8% of netizens were connected to Internet service via their advanced mobile devices (CNNIC, 2015). Similarly, according to the Office of the Communications Authority (2015), mobile subscribers in Hong Kong were 227.9% of the entire population, which indicated that many citizens had more than one mobile phone. Among these subscribers, 85.52% were smartphone users (including 2.5G, 3G, and 4G).

According to Smith (2015), young adults, the affluent, and the well-educated are among the most likely to own a smartphone, and they are the most active users of smartphones. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. First, young people generally are receptive of new technology (e.g., Charness & Bosman, 1992). Moreover, the young generation has a strong need to use new technology to extend their social domains because they are starting to build their identities and establish relations outside their families (e.g., Lanthier & Windham, 2004). However, the relative lack of mature self-regulation and insufficient information may result in the risk for addictive smartphone use among young adults (e.g., Chiu, 2014; Leung & Lee, 2012). Previous research has consistently found that compared with other life stages, adolescence is characterized by the heightened potential for recklessness, sensation seeking, impulsiveness, and risk-taking behaviors, which have been implicated in drug use and delinquency (Arnett, 1992). As the penetration rate of smartphone continues to increase, the negative outcomes of the problematic use of this media technology have attracted attention in the field of addiction research. For instance, previous studies have revealed key symptoms of mobile phone addiction in young people (Leung, 2008), and measurement scales have been created in the Western context (e.g., Bianchi & Phillips, 2005). However, in Asian countries, systematic investigations of this new media addiction are relatively scarce.

With the aim of providing empirical evidence to fill this gap in the research, a survey was conducted in China to determine the typical components of smartphone addiction symptoms among Chinese university students. Because of the limited amount of research in this area, theoretical constructs in psychology, such as procrastination, leisure boredom, and impulsivity, were used to explain addiction symptoms and problematic smartphone use. By linking problematic smartphone use in daily circumstances to potential predictors, this study gained new insights into understanding how psychological traits, symptoms of addiction, and patterns of smartphone feature usage influence the lives of young people (Burnay, Billieux, Blairy, & Larøi, 2015). As shown in Figure 1, this study focuses on the impact of procrastination, leisure boredom, and impulsivity (including urgency, premeditation, perseverance, and sensation seeking), as well as the symptoms of addiction on problematic smartphone use.

Figure 1.

Conceptual map


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