Deprived students chose smartphones over food, researchers find


Alina Bradford/Techhnews

Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that students preferred food deprivation over smartphone deprivation. 

In other words 76 students aged between 18 and 22, chose their phone over food.

In the study, students were deprived of food for three hours, and their phones for two hours. After this the students were able to perform a computer-based set of tasks in order to earn time or food.

“We were very surprised by the results,” said lead author Sara O’Donnell, a clinical psychology doctoral student in the Department of Pediatrics.

“We knew that students would be motivated to gain access to their phones, but we were surprised that despite modest food deprivation, smartphone reinforcement far exceeded food reinforcement across both methodologies.”

Students were offered their phones or 100 calories of their favourite snack.

It’s arguably testament to the draw of phones in the 2018, particularly among that age group, but 76 students is a small sample size. If someone offered me 100 calories of cheese or my phone, I’m going with the cheese, but I’m 37 years old and I really like cheese. The paper used these results to conclude that phones are “more reinforcing than food given modest food deprivation” but that seems premature. It’s hard to make any definitive conclusions with that sample size and distribution.

You can check out the full study here.

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