Oct. 23, 2018

Werklund School grad student explores people's relationships with their mobile devices

As part of her study, Mackenzie Sapacz seeks students and alumni to talk about their cell phone use


Werklund School of Education Staff

Werklund School graduate student Mackenzie Sapacz is researching the impact cell phones have on the mental health of students and alumni.

Mackenzie Sapacz is researching the impact cell phones have on the mental health of students.

Clayton MacGillivray, Werklund School of Education

Mackenzie Sapacz recalls several occasions during which friends interrupted face-to-face conversations to respond to text messages. She says these experiences of being "put on hold" increased in frequency over the years as cell phone ownership became more common and spurred her to research the impact mobile devices play in shaping social interactions and behaviours.

Specifically, Sapacz, who is pursuing a Master of Science degree in the Werklund School of Education’s Counselling Psychology program, is examining the benefits and drawbacks students and alumni experience through use of this pervasive technology.

"I'm studying how cell phones can be a blessing and a curse, often at the same time. I'm curious to learn how people understand their relationship with their cell phones and the factors that contribute to these devices becoming problematic on a personal level."

Problematic use, Sapacz explains, can be defined as any time a cell phone has interfered with otherwise preferred activities, routines or mood. Problematic use also differs from person to person. While one individual may spend 30 minutes on their phone and be consistently late for work or school, another can spend that same amount of time using their device but choose to wake up early in order to meet their obligations.

"For the individual who finds this behaviour is making them late and is having difficulty stopping, the consequences may be increased stress and interference with job performance. Other mental health implications would be dependent upon how they are using their phone, for example, playing games or browsing social media platforms with a focus on comparing their lives to others."

This research is imperative as there are many unanswered questions about the effects on the mental health of users who regularly engage with this technology, says Sapacz.

"Cell phones are unique because they provide many of the functions of a desktop computer — email, Internet access, etc. — but with the addition of round-the-clock accessibility, if desired."

Sapacz believes her findings will benefit individuals as well as clinicians working with clients who experience problematic cell phone use. "My hope is that the results of the research will provide new insights for users, including ways of understanding how a common device can become taken for granted in day-to-day routines."

Sapacz is recruiting University of Calgary students and alumni who have previously experienced or are currently experiencing problematic as well as non-problematic cell phone use. Participants will be asked to commit to a one-hour one-on-one interview that will be audio recorded and transcribed. Complete details are available on the University of Calgary Research website.