Why does silencing your phone lead to more anxiety, not less? - study

People are glued to their phones and are constantly receiving notifications. So, some put their phones on silent. Does it really help calm down and lessen anxiety? New research says no.

 Illustrative image of a person texting.  (photo credit: PXHERE)
Illustrative image of a person texting.
(photo credit: PXHERE)

Have you ever put your phone on silent thinking it will help you avoid distractions and stress? Now, new research has found that for many it can actually increase anxiety.

Smartphones are a constant part of our lives and most of us are constantly bothered by notifications. As a result, some people place their phones on silent mode to escape the distractions. 

"But will silencing notifications help users feel less distracted or more engaged with what they'll be missing out on?" wrote researchers in their article published in the peer-reviewed journal Computers in Human Behavior.

How did the researchers get to this conclusion? 

For the study, researchers collected data from 138 iPhone users. About 42% had their phones on vibrate, 8% had phones on silent, and the rest kept notifications open and active.

 A customers holds the new green colour Apple iPhone 13 pro shortly after it went on sale inside the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, March 18, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR) A customers holds the new green colour Apple iPhone 13 pro shortly after it went on sale inside the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, March 18, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)

Participants also completed a survey to see if they had FOMO (fear of missing out) and were also given a tool to monitor phone time. 

The researchers noted that it is easy to identify cases of FOMO: They are people who commit to a lot of things simultaneously and fail to do all of them. It also characterizes those who avoid commitments or decisions as much as possible because, as long as they don't choose, something more exciting might come up.

Interestingly, researchers found that those whose phones were on silent mode tended to pick up their phones to check for messages more often than those whose phones had notifications on or were on vibrate. They were also the group with the highest recorded amount of time spent on social media compared to those whose phones weren’t on silent mode. 

This was especially true for those with FOMO, researchers said, adding that the simple act of silencing notifications appeared to be more "psychologically distressing" for these participants.

What do the results mean? 

The results shed new light on the impact of the simple matter of putting our phones on silent, especially among those with high FOMO. 

"Our findings offer new insights into understanding the relationship between notifications and mobile phone use, specifically how the sound and vibration cues of notifications alleviate users' uncertainty and fulfill their informational, social, and environmental monitoring needs," the researchers wrote.

"Our findings offer new insights into understanding the relationship between notifications and mobile phone use, specifically how the sound and vibration cues of notifications alleviate users' uncertainty and fulfill their informational, social, and environmental monitoring needs."

The researchers

So instead of silencing all notifications completely, the researchers recommend that those with high FOMO inclinations personalize their notifications and, for example, mark the notifications from close friends and family to show up so they don't feel like they are missing out on social information that is important to them.