Theses Doctoral

The Distinct Psychology of Smartphone Usage

Melumad, Shiri

One of the most important trends in today’s marketplace is consumers’ increased reliance on smartphones not only as a communication device but also as a central platform for accessing information, entertainment and other consumption activities—the so-called “mobile revolution” (Ackley 2015). While the marketing implications of mobile platforms are receiving emerging attention in the marketing modeling literature (e.g., Danaher et al. 2015; Ghose and Han 2011; Sultan et al. 2009), still very little is known about the consumption psychology of smartphone usage. The purpose of my dissertation is to address this void by examining what is fundamentally different about the psychology of smartphone use. The dissertation consists of two essays examining two complementary components of mobile consumer behavior. In the first essay I focus on clarifying the particular type of relationship that consumers form with their smartphones. Specifically, I advance the hypothesis that smartphones often fulfill the role of “attachment objects” for consumers. That is, smartphones are now used by many consumers in much the same way as pacifiers or security blankets are used by children—which I refer to as the Adult Pacifier Hypothesis. Consistent with this hypothesis, results from two controlled lab experiments show that relative to a comparable device such as one’s personal computer, engaging with one’s smartphone provides greater comfort as well as faster recovery from a stressful situation, both of which are defining characteristics of attachment objects. A third lab study reveals that, under feelings of stress, people actively seek out and engage with the device over other objects in much the same way that a child would seek out and engage with his or her pacifier. Also consistent with this hypothesis, a fourth study shows that the drive to use one’s smartphone becomes especially pronounced among consumers who have recently quit smoking—that is, consumers who are particularly susceptible to anxiety and stress. In the second essay I document an important consequence of consumers’ increased reliance on their smartphones: its impact on user-generated content. Across three field studies and six controlled lab experiments, I find that smartphone usage drives the creation of content that is more emotional, specifically more positively emotional, and potentially more impactful than content generated on PCs. Overall, these findings provide insight into the psychology of the mobile consumer and its downstream marketing implications.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Pham, Michel T.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 6, 2017