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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 642-647  

Consequence of phubbing on psychological distress among the youth of Hyderabad

Department of Community Medicine, ESIC Medical College, Hyderabad, Telangana, India

Date of Submission20-Nov-2019
Date of Decision16-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance21-Dec-2019
Date of Web Publication6-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
Sudha Bala
Flat No. 301, Shubodaya Enclave, Bagh Amberpet, Hyderabad - 500 013, Telangana
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/mjdrdypu.mjdrdypu_315_19

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Background: Phubbing is defined as modern communication in which a person snubs another in a social setting by concentrating on their phone instead of having conversation. Derived from phone and snubbing words. This phenomenon has got a negative consequence that effects the psychological well being. Aim and Objectives: 1.To determine the prevalence of phubbing and characteristics of Phubbing behavior among youth2.To assess the consequence of Phubbing on psychological distress among youth. Material and Methods: A cross sectional study to be conducted among youth as they were more likely to use smartphones for many purposes. About 430 Students of Medicine(MBBS), Engineering, Arts and Unani college which were closer to the vicinity of our medical college located at Hyderabad were included using simple random sampling. Variables included socio demographic, phubbing characteristics, phubbing prevalence questionnaire using phubbing scale (Karadag) and Kesslers psychological distress scale to assess the consequence of phubbing. Results: Prevalence of phubbing was found among 223(52%) of the youth. Among them home phubbers were 118(52.9%) and college phubbers were 105(47.1%) with majority using whatsapp and facebook. Majority35% were phubbing for a duration of half an hour to one hour for more than of 3-5 times a day. Psychological distress was found to be mild (43%), moderate (34%) and severe (23%) of youth. There was statistically significant association between phubbing scoring and psychological distress by ANOVA. Conclusions: Early identification of this consequence helps to improve their behavior and psychological well being..

Keywords: Behavior characteristics, phubbing, psychological distress, well-being, youth

How to cite this article:
Tekkam SD, Bala S, Pandve H. Consequence of phubbing on psychological distress among the youth of Hyderabad. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth 2020;13:642-7

How to cite this URL:
Tekkam SD, Bala S, Pandve H. Consequence of phubbing on psychological distress among the youth of Hyderabad. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Sep 20];13:642-7. Available from: https://www.mjdrdypv.org/text.asp?2020/13/6/642/300142

  Introduction Top

In response to the concerns expressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centers and professionals about the public health relevance of health conditions associated with excessive use of the Internet and other communication and gaming platforms, WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse started activities on public health implications due to excessive use of the Internet, computers, smartphones, and similar electronic devices in 2014.[1]

In India, youth in the age group of 15–29 years comprise 27.5% of the population,[2] and now are more inclined toward the usage of smartphones. With advanced technology, Internet access has become easily accessible to everyone. On one hand, there are advantages, but on the other hand, there are detrimental effects, as youth are enmeshed in the digital world and are neglecting the real-practical world, thereby inviting new problems in their social and personal lives. This has led to a new emerging public health phenomenon called “Phubbing.”

Phubbing is defined as modern communication in which a person snubs another in a social setting by concentrating on their phone instead of having conversation.[3] This term is derived from phone and snubbing words. This phenomenon has a negative consequence that affects psychological well-being.[4]

Phubbing can be seen anywhere during human beings daily activities, that is, during meals, meetings, lectures, or social gatherings with friends and family. Phubbers (those who phub) often neglect and ignore the importance of maintaining and developing relationships by not communicating with others.

An underlying mechanism that may explain the supposed negative impact of phubbing behavior on social conversations is the nonverbal behavior that is displayed when a mobile phone is used. During a face-to-face interaction, contact between speaker and listener is established and maintained primarily with the help of nonverbal cues. This lack of eye contact is usually perceived as rude or inattentive, which conveys distance and disinterest between people during a conversation. This can have a direct negative impact on relationship satisfaction and an indirect impact on life satisfaction and depression through relationship satisfaction.[5]

It has been noted that in the age of E-learning, only a few Indian students often use their smartphones to enhance their learning.[6] The majority use smartphones for personal communication, especially for social networking on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, playing games, and Internet surfing.

The sum of the determinants – mobile addiction, Internet addiction, social media addiction, game addiction, self-control, and fear of missing out as the predictors of phubbing. The youth are more prone toward smartphone addiction which has been explained in the meta-analytic study done by Davey and Davey, where it ranges from 39% to 44% in Indian adolescents. Thereby increasing consequences of stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, delinquency, and aggressiveness.[7]

Studies related to phubbing are in the infancy stage all over the world. Practically, there are very few studies in the Indian setup, especially on the consequence of phubbing. Hyderabad, the capital hub of information and technology, provides much more easy access to be more techy savvy. The disastrous consequences are amenable by preventing phubbing in the earlier stage, so identification of this helps to improve their behavior and psychological well-being. Therefore, an attempt has been made to study this effect on the youth of Hyderabad with objectives to determine the prevalence of phubbing and characteristics of phubbing behavior and also to assess the consequence of this phubbing on psychological distress among youth.

  Materials and Methods Top

This was a cross-sectional study taken up in Hyderabad, capital city of Telangana for 3 months (from May 2018 to August 2018) among youth who are willing to participate and give informed consent belonging to the age group of 15–29 years, which included both adolescents and youth as per the definition of National Youth Policy 2014.[2] This was done to ensure maximum coverage, as they were more likely to use smartphones for many purposes, which is a well-established fact from various studies.[7],[8] Participants with psychological or behavioral disorders were excluded from the study.

The sample size was calculated based on the formulae-4pq/l2, where P = 50% prevalence of phubbing (as prevalence available from study conducted by Davey et al.),[9]l = 5% absolute precision; sample size calculated to be 384 and taking 10% as nonresponse rate, the total sample size was taken as 430. Students of medical college, engineering, arts, and unani college which were closer to the vicinity of our medical college located at Hyderabad were included in our study. To ensure adequate sampling and representation about 100–120 students from each college were taken using simple random sampling.


The Institutional ethical committee approval (ESICMC/SNR/IEC-S041/2/2018) was taken from our medical college before the study. The principals of four colleges were contacted personally by the guide, and the research student to explain the purpose of research and usefulness of this to their students. It was also made sure to maintain all the results confidential and to be used only for research purpose. Written approval of permission was obtained from all the principals of the colleges before starting the study. After approval from the administration of respective colleges, students were also addressed regarding the research purpose, the meaning of phubbing, and the effect on them. Predesigned questionnaire was pretested by giving it to five students of our medical college to accord feasibility and to make corrections. The pretested and predesigned questionnaire used included data on sociodemographic variables, phubbing characteristics such as usage of the social networking sites and playing games along with the duration or frequency per day, phubbing prevalence questionnaire using phubbing scale, and psychological distress scale to assess the consequence of phubbing. To study the variables in our study, two scales were adopted as follows: (1) Phubbing prevalence questionnaire developed by Karadaǧ et al. (2) Phubbing consequence scale to assess psychological distress developed by Kessler. Phubbing prevalence questionnaire had 10 items Graded 1 (never), 2 (seldom), 3 (sometimes), 4 (often), and 5 (always) on a 5-point Likert scale.[10] From this, the prevalence of phubbing in terms of frequency was calculated by modification on the cutoff score wherein ≥20 was taken as the presence of phubbing. The contents of this scale mainly had domains related to communication disturbance and phone obsession. As per Kessler's scale k-10 questionnaire, ten questions were included using 5-point Likert scale Graded 1 (none of the time), 2 (little of the time), 3 (some of the time), 4 (most of the time), and 5 (all of the time).[11] Based on the total score, they were subclassified as mild, moderate, and severe psychological distress. Scores under 20 were likely to be well, scores 20–24 were likely to have a mild mental disorder, scores 25–29 were likely to have a moderate mental disorder, and scores 30 and over were likely to have a severe mental disorder.

Data were entered in Microsoft Excel 2010. Privacy and confidentiality were maintained; data were stored with the department of community medicine. Frequency, mean and standard deviations, and mean score of phubbing prevalence were associated with the severity of psychological distress using ANOVA test and Chi-square were used wherever required.

  Results Top

The study participants included 430 in number, who were selected from different fields of education to generalize the youth representation from the city of pearls, Hyderabad. The participants from various colleges included 99 (23%) from arts college, 99 (23%) from unani college, 129 (30%) from engineering college, and 103 (24%) from medical college. The mean age of the participants was found to be 20.16 ± 1.77; the minimum age was 17 years, and the maximum age was 28 years. As per the classified age group, 264 (61.4%) belonged to 17–20 years, 158 (36.7%) belonged to 21–25 years, and 8 (1.9%) to 25–28 years as depicted in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Distribution of study participants according to the age group

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According to sex distribution, 196 (45.4%) were males, and 235 (54.6%) were females. Using modified Kuppuswamy classification,[12] 180 (41.8%) belonged to the upper class (I), 200 (46.6%) belonged to upper middle class (II), and 50 (11.6%) belonged to lower middle class (III). None of them were from lower class.

Prevalence and characteristics of phubbing

The prevalence of Phubbing was found among 223 (52%) of study participants (Youth). This was highest among (100%) 25–28 years of age group followed by (79%) 21–24 years and (77%) among 17–20 years, but statistically nonsignificant association was found using Chi-square. Similarly, no statistical significance was found with home and college phubbers, but phubbing was found more among college phubbers. Statistically significant association was found with higher socioeconomic status and phubbing [Table 1].
Table 1: Association between phubbing prevalence and socioeconomic status

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Devices used by the phubbers were smartphones (ordinary) 168 (75.5%), and smartphone (expensive) was among 55 (24.5%). The use of various social networking sites and games during phubbing is depicted in [Table 2].
Table 2: Distribution of social media usage during phubbing

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Duration of phubbing varied from <1/2 h 144 (34%), 1/2 h to 1 h 152 (35%), and more than hour among 134 (31%) with a frequency of either half a day among 144 (65%) or full day 89 (35%).

Consequence of phubbing on psychological distress

Psychological distress among youth as a consequence of phubbing was found among 96 (43%) as mild, 77 (34%) as moderate, and 50 (33%) as severe according to Kessler's scale as depicted in [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Consequence of phubbing on psychological distress among youth using Kessler's scale

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Using the analysis of variance (ANOVA), the highest phubbing scores were found to be statistically significant among severely affected as per Kessler's scale. The higher the scores the degree of severity of psychological distress increased as explained in [Table 3].
Table 3: Consequence of mean scores of phubbing on psychological distress using the analysis of variance

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  Discussion Top

In middle-income countries like India, youth have made a revolutionary change in their lifestyle and changing trends in information technology made them more techy savvy. This led to many advantages of technology development in healthcare, but at the same time, drove youth toward consequences such as smartphone addiction, phubbing, Internet addictions, insomnia, depression, nomophobia changing our social relationships, etc. among the Indians too.

In our study, we found the mean age of the participants to be 20.16 ± 1.77 years, and majority of them belonged to the age group of 17–20 years (61.4%). According to sex distribution, 45.4% were males, and 54.6% were females. Majority of them belonged to upper middle class (46.6%) as per the modified Kuppuswamy socioeconomic status scale.

Matar Boumosleh and Jaalouk study consisted of 688 undergraduate students of Lebanon (53% men and 47% women) with a mean age of 20.64 ± 1.88 years.[13] The mean age was similar to our study, which has been considered from various fields of education.

Similar findings were found among the study of Venu et al., who carried out in two different medical colleges of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India – female participants were more (57.2%) as compared to males (42.8%).[14] In contrast to our study, Unnikrishnan et al. carried out study among medical students in Coastal South India and found 56% of participants were boys, and 44% of participants were girls. These differences could be explained due to the effect of different settings and backgrounds.[15]

The magnitude of phubbing is found to be high (52%) in our study participants, which explains many factors such as age group where the younger generation are getting an access to mobile phones and easy Internet access. We have medical, engineering, and commerce graduates who are most likely to be engaged and they all belong to better socioeconomic status.

Majority of them, 75.5% used smartphones (ordinary) for phubbing, which was maximum at college. The use of social network accounted mainly for using WhatsApp (87.8%), followed by Facebook (46.6%), others (games/Internet surfing) 17%, and Linkedin (31%). The frequency of phubbing was noticed maximum for ½ h to 1 h (35%) for half a day among 65% of phubbers in our study.

Karadaǧ et al. in their study to assess the determinants of phubbing noted 70% of the participants owned a smartphone, 92% were using social media, and 75% were spending 2 h or more on the Internet. Results showed that the highest correlation value explaining phubbing was observed for mobile phone addiction through a theoretical model.[10]

In the Indian setup, very few studies have been conducted to estimate the prevalence and its determinants. Davey et al. had conducted a study among the youth of Muzaffarnagar to assess the prevalence and determinants of phubbing. The prevalence of phubbing was found to be 49.3% and more among upper class, whereas our study revealed more phubbing among upper middle class which was statistically significant. The higher prevalence of smartphone usage (77%) may also explain the important phubbing features present in their study such as excessive social media usage (WhatsApp and Facebook – 62.4% combined), ½–1 h of phubbing (79.1%), phubbing frequency (½–1 day: 89.3%), and 65.9% in home phubbers. This finding of phubbing at home was in contrast to our study.[9] This could be explained by the sum of smartphone addiction, Internet addiction, and no control over the data usage in the absence of parents at college. Damor et al. in their study among Gujarati medical students found the most common purpose of using the phone in their study was for 65.2% social networking, about 19.5% have mentioned academic literature search, 8.3% were watching online movies and songs, and 5.8% mentioned playing online games.[16] This pattern of Internet addiction is also responsible for their phubbing behavior. This tremendous increased usage of social networking is a major public health problem contributing to phubbing.

Our study noted severe psychological distress among 23% and 34% as moderate distress using Kessler's scale among phubbers. On analysis using ANOVA, we found the higher mean scores of phubbing among severely distressed patients and were statistically significant.

Davey et al. in their impact evaluation of phubbing after 6 months found the most important consequence among phubbers as depression and distress (55.5%) using Kessler's scale.[9] Balta et al. found that females had higher levels of phubbing, problematic Instagram use, fear of missing out, neuroticism, and trait anxiety scores compared to males. Where the problematic Instagram usage was found to be positively correlated with a phubbing score.[17] Problematic smartphone usage is associated with higher scores of 39.38 ± 8.32 on the self-depression scale among Chinese undergraduates in a study done by Long et al.[18] These variations can be explained by different scales used to measure depression and distress.

Strength of our study is it gives a risk estimate of the consequence of phubbing on psychological distress among the young age, the economically productive group who needs to be urgently targeted to promote and educate on behavioral changes at the earliest stage to improve the well-being. Limitation of our study is we require a mixed method – qualitative plus quantitative in near future to enhance our study, and moreover, to generalize our results, an evaluation study to further follow-up is also essential.

  Conclusion Top

This study implies the need to create awareness with health education and promotes healthy use of the Internet to prevent the deleterious effect of phubbing on psychological distress among the youth in urban settings to improve their well-being.


We would extend our thanks to the principals of the concerned colleges, faculty, and all the study participants for extending their support.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was financially supported by ICMR-STS 2018.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Public Health Implications of Excessive Use of the Internet, Computers, Smartphones and Similar Electronic Devices Meeting Report. Tokyo, Japan: Main Meeting Hall, Foundation for Promotion of Cancer Research National Cancer Research Centre; 2014.  Back to cited text no. 1
National Youth Policy-2014. India; 2014. Available from: https://www.yas.nic.in/sites/default/les/National-Youth-Policy-Document.pdf. [Last updated on 2014 Dec 31; Last accessed on 2018 Jan 25].  Back to cited text no. 2
Chotpitayasunondh V, Douglas KM. How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone. Comput Hum Behav 2016;63:9-18. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216303454. [Last accessed on 2018 Jan 20].  Back to cited text no. 3
Excess Use of Smartphone Risks Mental Health. Indian Express. Available from: http://Indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/health/excess-use-of-smartphone-risks-mental-health-4638738/. [Last accessed on 2018 Jan 20].  Back to cited text no. 4
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Acharya JP, Acharya I, Waghrey D. A study on some of the common health effects of cell-phones amongst college students. J Community Med Health Educ 2013;3:214-18.  Back to cited text no. 6
Davey S, Davey A. Assessment of smartphone addiction in Indian adolescents: A Mixed method study by systematic-review and meta-analysis approach. Int J Pre Med 2014;5:1500-11.  Back to cited text no. 7
Davey S, Davey A, Singh JV. Emergence of problematic internet use among Indian adolescents: A multi method study. J Indian Assoc Child Adolesc Ment Health 2016;12:60-78.  Back to cited text no. 8
Davey S, Davey A, Raghav SK, Singh JV, Singh N, Blachnio A, et al. Predictors and consequences of “Phubbing” among adolescents and youth in India: An impact evaluation study. J Family Community Med 2018;25:35-42.  Back to cited text no. 9
Karadaǧ E, Tosuntaş ŞB, Erzen E, Duru P, Bostan N, Şahin BM, et al. Determinants of phubbing, which is the sum of many virtual addictions: A structural equation model. J Behav Addict 2015;4:60-74.  Back to cited text no. 10
Kessler RC, Barker PR, Colpe LJ, Epstein JF, Gfroerer JC, Hiripi E, et al. Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 Feb;60(2):184-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
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Matar Boumosleh J, Jaalouk D. Depression, anxiety, and smartphone addiction in university students – A cross sectional study. PLoS One 2017;12:e0182239.  Back to cited text no. 13
Venu VG, Srijampana R, Reddy A, KoiladaPrabhath KK, BhagawanRajana A. Prevalence and pattern of internet addiction among medical students. Med J Dr DY Patil Univer 2014;7:709-13.  Back to cited text no. 14
Unnikrishnan B, Kulshrestha V, Saraf A, Agrahari AC, Prakash S, Samantaray L, Parida A. Pattern of computer and Internet use among medical students in Coastal South India. South East Asian J Med Educ 2008;2:18-25.  Back to cited text no. 15
Damor RB, Gamit SP, Modi A, Patel J, Kosambiya J. Pattern of smart phone and internet usage among medical students in Surat, Gujarat – A cross sectional study. Natl J Community Med 2018;9:469-73.  Back to cited text no. 16
Balta S, Emirtekin E, Kircaburun K, Griffiths MD. Neuroticism, Trait Fear of Missing Out, and Phubbing: The Mediating Role of State Fear of Missing Out?and Problematic Instagram Use. Int J Ment Health. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9959-8. [Last accessed on 2018 May 22].  Back to cited text no. 17
Long J, Liu TQ, Liao YH, Qi C, He HY, Chen SB, et al. Prevalence and correlates of problematic smartphone use in a large random sample of Chinese undergraduates. BMC Psychiatry 2016;16:408.  Back to cited text no. 18


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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