Your smartphone is contagious: "chameleon effect"

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Spontaneous mimicry is the phenomenon that occurs when someone pulls out their smartphone in public. A new scientific study has evaluated this curious "chameleon effect."

On the bus, in the doctors waiting room (or at the vaccination center!), Or even with family or friends. As soon as a person takes out their smartphone, to browse social networks or otherwise, her entourage tends to do the same.

A strange phenomenon of spontaneous mimicry, which Italian researchers observed and evaluated in a new study. The results appeared online on April 17, 2021, in the Journal of Ethology.

A team from the University of Pisa (Italy) has discovered that a "chameleon effect" occurs, quite comparable to that which occurs when someone yawns. When someone starts tapping their phone in a hangout, nearly half of the witnesses, in turn, start using their smartphones, proof that this behavior is somehow "contagious."

In total, the researchers observed the behaviors and attitudes of 184 people (96 men and 88 women), in common spaces (dining room, park, dinner, etc.). As soon as a person started picking up his smartphone, for example, to see if he had received a message or a notification, the researchers counted the number of people who did the same in the next 30 seconds. The same experiment was repeated, this time with a phone call.

Verdict: Overall, half of the people who saw someone use their smartphone (outside of a call) did the same in 30 seconds. In contrast, in the case of a phone call, only 0.5% of those around them called someone in turn. In addition, this spontaneous mimicry was less present when the participants shared a meal, which, for the researchers, shows that this moment of coexistence remains "sacred" and centered on direct social interactions.

Finally, the authors believe that this mimicry may partly explain the widespread and large-scale use of smartphones, at least in public spaces.

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