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Accepted Manuscript

Unravelling the effect of cell phone reliance on adolescent self-


control

Joonggon Kim, Gyeongseok Oh, Sonja E. Siennick

PII: S0190-7409(17)30838-1
DOI: doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.02.022
Reference: CYSR 3691
To appear in: Children and Youth Services Review
Received date: 23 September 2017
Revised date: 11 February 2018
Accepted date: 12 February 2018

Please cite this article as: Joonggon Kim, Gyeongseok Oh, Sonja E. Siennick , Unravelling
the effect of cell phone reliance on adolescent self-control. The address for the
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appropriate. Cysr(2017), doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.02.022

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Unravelling the Effect of Cell Phone Reliance on Adolescent self-

control

Joonggon Kima*, Gyeongseok Ohb and Sonja E. Siennickc

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acCollege of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL,

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USA

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College of Criminal Justice, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Sam Houston

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State University, Houston, TX, USA

* jk14n@my.fsu.edu Florida State University 600 W College Ave, Tallahassee, FL, USA
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Authors’ information

Joonggon Kim (Corresponding author)


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College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida State University, 112 S. Copeland Street
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Tallahassee, Florida 32306, Phone: 850-567-1361, Fax: 850-644-9614, Email:

jk14n@my.fsu.edu
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Gyeongseok Oh

College of Criminal Justice, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Sam Houston

State University, Box 2296, Huntsville, Texas 77341, Phone: 832-610-6372, Email:

gxo014@shsu.edu

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Sonja E. Siennick

College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida State University, 112 S. Copeland Street

Tallahassee, Florida 32306, Phone: 850-645-9265, Fax: 850-644-9614, Email:

ssiennick@fsu.edu

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Unraveling the Effect of Cell Phone Reliance on Adolescent Self-Control

Abstract

This paper examines whether cell phones are a plausible source of adolescent behavioral

problems by testing whether cell phone reliance is associated with adolescent self-control. We

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estimate two-level random effects regression models using three waves of the Korean Children

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Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS) data. The results revealed that cell phone reliance might have a

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contemporaneous negative effect on the level of adolescent self-control, but it has no long-

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term association with self-control. Concerns about the long-term effects of excessive cell

phone use on adolescent self-control may be overstated, and any effect of cell phone reliance
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may be transient.
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Keywords: self-control, cell phone, HLM, KCYPS


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Unraveling the Effect of Cell Phone Reliance on Adolescent Self-Control

Abstract

This paper examines whether cell phones are a plausible source of adolescent behavioral

problems by testing whether cell phone reliance is associated with adolescent self-control. We

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estimate two-level random effects regression models using three waves of the Korean Children

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Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS) data. The results revealed that cell phone reliance might have a

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contemporaneous negative effect on the level of adolescent self-control, but it has no long-

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term association with self-control. Concerns about the long-term effects of excessive cell

phone use on adolescent self-control may be overstated, and any effect of cell phone reliance
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may be transient.
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Keywords: self-control, cell phone, HLM, KCYPS


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Introduction
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The cell phone is becoming a necessity of our everyday life. A 2014 Pew Research Center study revealed
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that 90% of American adults have a cell phone, and 58% of American adults have a smartphone. The up-

surge in teenagers’ smartphone use is also noticeable. Approximately 37% of American teenagers used

smartphones in 2012 (Madden et al. 2013), which is 14% more than in 2011. Other countries have seen

similar increases. According to a survey by the National Information Society Agency in South Korea,

31% of adolescents experienced cellphone reliance—a form of technological addiction—in 2016 (Nation-

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al Information Society Agency 2017). Moreover, the survey reported that 3% of the sample had experi-

enced serious physical, psychological, or social consequences from their cell phone reliance.

An impressive body of empirical research across various fields of scholarship has linked

cell phone use with a variety of negative outcomes, including behavioral problems (Byun et al.

2013; Divan et al. 2008; 2012), cognitive function (Abramson et al. 2009; Jenaro et al. 2007),

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brain activity (Dubey et al. 2010), and delinquency (Lee et al. 2014; Wells and Mitchell 2008).

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Meanwhile, a limited number of studies have addressed the association between cell phone (or

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internet) use and self-control related concepts (Hinduja and Patchin 2008; Ybarra and Mitchell

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2004). They, however, have not regarded cell phone or internet use as a predictor of low self-

control, but rather as a manifestation of low self-control.


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Despite the lack of empirical evidence, cell phones have been blamed as a main source of

adolescent low self-control or related behavioral problems. For example, some scholars and
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journalists have argued that the development of technology, including cell phones, is
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responsible for the upsurge of children’s attentional problems around the world (Greenfield
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2014; Richtel 2010). Also, major media outlets have reported that people’s shortened attention

spans are attributable to their use of digital devices such as cell phones (The New York Times
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2016; Time 2015). As a result, many people are concerned that cell phone use may have

harmful effects on the development of adolescent self-control. However, little is known


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regarding whether this concern is scientifically reliable or just a myth.

We examine this belief by testing whether high degrees of cell phone reliance reduce

adolescent self-control. Recent findings indicate that rather than being a fixed individual trait

established early in life, adolescent self-control is influenced by later environmental factors.

These findings imply that cell phone use might be another environmental factor that affects

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adolescent low self-control. Based on this possibility, the current study specifically tests

whether cell phone reliance is associated with adolescent self-control, using multilevel

modeling and three waves of data from the Korean Children Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS).

We first test a contemporaneous effect of cell phone reliance on the level of self-control using

a modeling strategy that eliminates many potential sources of spuriousness. Second, to

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examine whether there is a lagged effect of cell phone reliance on self-control, we use a

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similarly strong modeling strategy to test whether cell phone reliance predicts self-control

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measured one year later. Lastly, we test whether initially high cell phone reliance influences

the developmental change in adolescent self-control over three waves by estimating the effect

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of a cross-level interaction term between baseline cell phone reliance and wave on the level of
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self-control.
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Predictors of Low Self-Control and the Stability Contention


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The self-control theory centers its focus on factors that control inherently self-centered

human nature (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990, p. 117). In particular, the theory emphasizes the
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role of parenting as a sole determinant of self-control. The basic causal chain of the self-
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control theory is that ineffective parenting during childhood fails to increase the child’s level

of self-control, and once established, low self-control during childhood drives the child’s
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delinquency. Furthermore, the theory posits that relative levels of self-control established in

childhood remain stable over the entire life course (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990).

Recent research has challenged the idea that parenting is the sole determinant of self-

control. For example, studies have found that factors such as school socialization (Turner et al.

2005), peers’ behaviors (Meldrum and Hay 2012), and neighborhood contexts (Teasdale and

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Silver 2009) play significant roles in the development of children’s and adolescent self-

control. Beyond factors related to socialization, other studies have found that stresses and

strains such as depression (Remster 2014), victimization (Agnew et al. 2011), and sleep

deprivation (Meldrum et al. 2015) also predict low self-control.

Research has also challenged the theory’s stability proposition (Burt et al. 2014; Na and

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Paternoster 2012). For instance, Burt et al. found that the relative ranking of self-control

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between groups and individuals changed significantly from ages 10 to 25. These results are in

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line with Sampson and Laub’s (2003) view that later social experience, no matter positive or

negative, can counteract the effect of socialization from parents during one’s early stage of life

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(as cited in Na and Paternoster 2012, p. 432). This perspective provides a starting point for the
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exploration of various factors that could influence self-control after childhood.
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The Concept of Cell Phone Reliance


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Since Griffiths (1995) defined technological addiction as “a type of behavioral addiction

that involves human-machine interaction” (p. 14), a significant body of research has regarded
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cellphone addiction as a type of technological addiction (Choliz 2010; Walsh et al. 2010). The
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components of technological addiction are the same as those of substance addiction or

gambling addiction including salience, euphoria, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict,


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and relapse (Griffiths 1995, p. 15). Salience means that the activity becomes the most

important part of the addicted person’s life. Euphoria is the subjective emotion the addicted

person feels when they are doing the activity. This includes arousal and excitement. Tolerance

is when more of the activity is required to achieve the same degree of gratification that the

person felt earlier. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant emotions that occur when the activity

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is discontinued. Conflict includes both the internal conflict of the addicted person and conflicts

with others. Relapse refers to the tendency towards repeated reversion of the addicted person.

Various cell phone reliance scales measure concepts that are not very different from these

components (Bianchi and Phillips 2005; Jenaro et al. 2007; Park 2005), although minor

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variations exist. For instance, the Cell-Phone Over-Use Scale developed by Jenaro et al.

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(2007) is based on seven pathological gambling criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical

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Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and covers salience, relapse, withdrawal symptoms,

conflict, and euphoria. Park (2005) also indicated that the mobile phone addiction scale he

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developed based on the DSM-IV reflects tolerance, withdrawal, unintended use, cutting down,
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time spent, displacement of other activities and continued use, which are not far off from

Griffiths’ (1995) components.


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In measuring the effects of cell phone use, focusing on cell phone addiction or reliance has
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advantages compared to relying on just the amount of time spent using the cell phone. First of

all, reports of the amount of time spent rely on the accuracy of respondents’ memories, while
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cell phone addiction/reliance scales measure the present conditions of respondents and thus are
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not as reliant on memory (Walsh et al. 2010). Second, some people frequently check their cell

phones for missed calls or texts. If we rely only on measures of time spent using the cell
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phone, it is unclear whether this type of behavior is counted as use (Walsh et al. 2010). Also,

some people may spend a lot of time using their phones for work or study. In such cases, the

amount of time spent would not necessarily indicate problematic use. In contrast, cell phone

addiction/reliance scales can capture present condition of the respondents caused by all types

of interaction with the cell phone that can properly capture the purpose of the current study. In

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sum, the cell phone addiction/reliance scales are relatively less likely to be biased by

respondents’ inaccurate memory and unclear categorization.

Another consideration in studying the effect of cell phone use is whether the phrase “cell

phone addiction” is appropriate because the traditional concept of addiction refers to the

dependence on a substance such as drugs (Leung 2008). Although some scholars have used the

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phrases “Internet addiction” and “Cell phone addiction” to capture technology-related

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problems resembling substance addiction, this use of the term addiction is controversial

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because those behaviors lack the major physical signs found in substance addiction (Alavi

2012). Also, “addiction” typically refers to a severe problem, whereas “reliance” comprises

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various states or degrees of problematic behaviors. In this regard, we use the phrase “cell
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phone reliance” in the current study instead of “cell phone addiction.”
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Cell Phone Use as a Predictor of Low Self-Control


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Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) stated that “Drug use and delinquency are both manifestations

of an underlying tendency to pursue short-term, immediate pleasure” (p. 93). If self-control is


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an underlying propensity predicting various types of criminal and noncriminal behaviors, high
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cell phone reliance may be just another manifestation of low self-control. On the other hand,

an alternative perspective suggests that cell phone reliance may predict low self-control— and
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this perspective is what we focus on in this study. Although there is no established theory for

this perspective, we posit several hypothetical scenarios regarding how cell phone reliance

may influence adolescent self-control levels.

First, a series of studies have focused on the effect of sleep deprivation on self-control.

These studies draw on the strength model of self-control developed in the field of psychology

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(Baumeister and Tierney 2011; Muravan and Baumeister. 2000). This model describes self-

control as a muscle that can be exhausted by using it and recovered through rest. Using this

logic, several studies have found a positive association between sleep, which is a major type of

rest, and the level of self-control (Barber and Munz 2011; Meldrum et al. 2015). Other studies

have focused on the effect of cell phone use on sleep deprivation (Cain and Gradisar 2010;

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Lemola et al. 2015). According to Cain and Gradisar (2010), cell phone use causes sleep

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deprivation by providing easy and constant access to leisure activities without starting and

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stopping times, increasing mental/emotional arousal before sleep, emitting light, and playing

audible message alerts during sleep time. Taken together, these studies suggest that those who

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are highly reliant on cell phones may experience sleep deprivation, and this sleep deprivation
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may reduce their level of self-control.

Second, withdrawal symptoms could have a mediating effect. Adolescents who are highly
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reliant on cell phones may experience various negative emotions when they are not allowed to
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use cell phones. As discussed above, such negative emotions correspond with withdrawal

symptoms. In many situations, adolescent cell phone use is restricted formally and informally.
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For instance, adolescents cannot use cell phones during class, and parents may put limits on
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cell phone use at home. To adolescents who are highly reliant on cell phones, these restrictions

may function as types of strain that arouse negative emotions including anger. According to
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Agnew et al. (2011), anger causes decreased “awareness of or concern for the costs of possible

actions”, and thus instantly reduces self-control (p. 170).

Third, various social networking services provide the opportunity to socialize with peers in

the absence of parents’ supervision. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 71% of

youth ages 13 to 17 used more than one social networking site in 2014. In addition, social

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networking mobile applications are one of the biggest predictors of mobile addiction (Salehan

and Negahban 2013). These statistics indicate that socializing with peers is becoming a critical

purpose of cell phone use. One of the most distinctive characteristics of cell phones is that

they make it possible to communicate privately without the constraint of time and space. This

characteristic frees children and adolescents from their parents’ supervision. Given that peer

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association has an independent influence on later self-control (Burt et al. 2006; Meldrum and

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Hay 2012), sustained exposure to cell phone use may decrease adolescent self-control in the

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long term by enabling unsupervised online peer association.

Fourth, excessive cell phone use may lead to attention problems that share many aspects of

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low self-control. This could occur through three mechanisms. First, according to Gentile et
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al.’s (2012) excitement hypothesis, electronic media such as that accessed through cell phones

are filled with highly stimulating content including violence, which serves as “potent attention
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grabbing cues” (p. 63). Sustained exposure to such content reduces adolescent ability to
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concentrate on less sensational works in everyday life, thus causing attention problems and

lower levels of self-control. Second, according to Gentile et al.’s (2012) displacement


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hypothesis, time spent with electronic media reduces time spent on other activities that
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develop self-control, such as spending time with parents. Third, Abramson et al. (2009)

viewed the attention problem issue from a different standpoint. They found that heavy cell
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phone users tend not to concentrate on doing things accurately. They attributed this to the

convenience functions of cell phones that reduce the burden of concentrating or memorizing,

such as predictive texting or autocomplete.

Lastly, empirical studies have examined the association of cell phone exposure with

children’s behavior based on the hypothetical effect of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields

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(RF-EMF) emitted from cell phones. Divan et al. (2008) found significant effects of prenatal

and postnatal exposure to cell phone use on emotional problems, hyperactivity, conduct

problems, and peer problems in 7-year old children, net of the mother’s smoking, psychiatric

illness, mental disorder, and social, occupational status. One step further, Divan et al. (2012)

controlled for two more important covariates in their replication study: mother’s attention

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towards the children and other sources of prenatal ionizing and non-ionizing radiation (i.e., x-

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rays, ultrasound). They also found a weak but significant effect. In a similar vein, Byun et al.

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(2013) examined whether mobile phone use and blood lead levels predicted children's risk for

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms, which have much in common

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with low self-control (Unnever et al. 2003). They identified a significant effect of mobile
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phone use on ADHD symptom risk, whereas blood lead levels showed a somewhat limited

effect. However, the biological mechanism by which RF-EMF might influence these
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behavioral problems is still unclear.


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Taken together, these five hypothetical explanations suggest that cell phone reliance may

lead to low self-control. Specifically, the first two explanations focus on the contemporaneous
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or instant effect of cell phone reliance, while the other three explanations focus on the long-
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term effect of cell phone reliance on the development of self-control.


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Hypotheses

The current study tests two research questions. (1) The first question is whether high cell

phone reliance is contemporaneously associated with adolescent self-control. Specifically, we

hypothesize that a high level of cell phone reliance at each wave will predict a low level of

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self-control at the same wave after controlling for other predictors of low self-control. (2) The

second question addresses whether cell phone reliance has a long-term effect on the

development of adolescent self-control. We will examine this question in two ways. First, by

using a lagged measure of cell phone reliance in the above model, we test whether the level of

cell phone reliance predicts adolescent self-control measured a year later. We hypothesize that

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cell phone reliance measured in a given wave will have a negative effect on the level of

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adolescent self-control at the following wave. Second, we explore another long-term effect of

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cell phone reliance by examining whether a high initial level of cell phone reliance suppresses

the development of adolescent self-control over time. We hypothesize that the adolescents

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with higher baseline levels of cell phone reliance will show weaker increases in self-control
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over three waves.
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Methods
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Data
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We use three waves (waves 2, 3, and 4) from the first grade of middle school student panel

data in the Korean Children Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS) provided by Korea National Youth
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Policy Institute. The KCYPS data were collected from 14-18-year old adolescents across

South Korea by the Korea National Youth Policy Institute during 2010 to 2016. These data are

well suited for the current study for two reasons. First, they contain abundant items tapping

cell phone reliance, self-control and various control variables including effective parenting,

neighborhood factors, and peer relationships. Second, the fact that South Korea is one of the

top countries in terms of smartphone penetration rate provides a unique opportunity to test the

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effect of heavy cell phone use. According to a report by the Korea Information Society

Development Institute (KISDI), 84.6% of middle school students ages 13 to 15 and 92.9% of

high school students ages 16 to 18 were using a smartphone in 2014, and more than 92% had

been using a cell phone since 2012.

The KCYPS consists of three-panel groups according to the school grade at the first wave: the

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first grade of elementary school students (7 years old), the fourth grade of elementary school

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students (10 years old), and the first grade of middle school students (13 years old). Students

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on each panel were selected from all of the 16 provinces of South Korea through multi-level

stratified sampling. First, the surveyors divided 16 provinces in 27 clusters. Then, they

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selected schools which had more than two classes and 50 students from each cluster with the
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probability proportional to the number of the students. Lastly, they randomly selected one

class in each selected school and conducted the first survey. From the second wave, surveyors
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resurveyed each individual each October from 2010 to 2016. Also, parents or primary
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caregivers completed household questionnaires over the phone in each October.

At wave 1, the number of respondents in the first grade of middle school student panel was
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2,351. Although the KCYPS has panel attrition like any other panel data, it was negligible
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(response rates ranged from 89.7% to 97.0%). Also, there was no evidence that the missing

data had a systematic pattern. Ultimately, 2,064 students were included in the analyses after
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listwise deletion. We included respondents who were absent at one or more waves in the

analysis since our modeling strategy can process this type of data without losing the whole

case. Accordingly, the final sample size of the current study is 5,871 observations on 2,064

individuals.

Measures

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Dependent variable: Self-control

According to Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990), people with low self-control are “impulsive, insensitive,

physical (as opposed to mental), risk-taking, short-sighted, and nonverbal” (p. 90). Based on these ele-

ments and prior studies (Beaver & Wright, 2005; Hay & Forrest, 2008; Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, &

Arneklev, 1993; Na & Paternoster, 2012), we selected eight items tapping impulsivity, preference for

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simple tasks, temper, and low concentration to create a scale of self-control. Those items were “I tend

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not to read the questions carefully when I take exams”, “I don’t want to do tasks that require a lot of

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effort”, “It is hard for me to sit calmly when I study,” “I tend to quarrel over trifles,” “I tend to be

easily distracted even after being punished or praised,” “I tend to fight with others over trivial matters,”

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“I often make mistakes or cause accidents because of carelessness,” and “I cannot stand it when

something that I want to do is blocked.” We examined the construct validity of this self-control scale in
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two ways. First, we estimated the correlations between our self-control measure and other measures
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that have been demonstrated to be correlated with self-control by prior research. We first tested the

correlation between the self-control scale and a combined measure of thirteen types of delinquent be-
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havior including smoking, drinking, truancy, bullying, gang fighting, threatening, and stealing in the
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KCYPS data set. The result showed a significant correlation between these two constructs at each wave

in the theoretically expected direction (ranging from -0.13 to -0.16). In addition, we observed a signifi-
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cant correlation (r =.27) between our self-control measure and parenting in the direction as Gottfredson

and Hirschi (1990) suggested (Table 2). Secondly, in a principal component analysis, we found that all
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of the items included in the scale loaded on the first component (with loadings ranging from 0.31 to

0.43), and the scree plots dropped the sharpest from the first component to the second component.

Overall, the results show that our self-control scale is a valid way to measure self-control. Each item

has a 4-point response scale of (1) strongly agree, (2) somewhat agree, (3) somewhat disagree, and (4)

strongly disagree. Responses to some questions such as “I tend to read the questions carefully when I

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take exams” were reverse coded so that a higher score denotes a higher level of self-control.

Cronbach’s alpha for the index for each wave was .80 (wave 2), .82 (wave 3), and .78 (wave 4).

Independent variable: Cell phone reliance

The data set includes seven questions tapping cell phone reliance. These questions also address four of

the six components of Griffiths’ technological addiction — salience, euphoria, tolerance, and with-

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drawal symptoms. For example, statements like “I feel anxious when I go out without my cell phone”

assess the degree of withdrawal symptoms. Items like “I spend more and more time using my cell

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phone” were designed to measure tolerance. In addition, the item “I can’t live without a cell phone” is

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a measure of salience. Lastly, items like “I feel bored when I don’t have a cell phone” estimate the de-

gree of euphoria. All items have response categories ranging from (1) strongly agree to (4) strongly
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disagree. We reverse coded all the answers so that a higher score denotes a higher level of cell phone

reliance. The index of cell phone reliance composed of these seven items has high Cronbach’s alpha
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scores (.88-.90).
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Control variables
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Based on prior research, we include four time-varying control variables that might influence self-

control. Those variables include effective parenting, the number of delinquent peers, depression, and
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relationships with neighbors.


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Effective parenting

Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) proposed parenting as a sole cause of self-control. Thus, controlling for

the effect of parenting is essential to capturing an independent effect of cell phone reliance on self-

control. We chose eight items tapping parental supervision, discipline, and involvement from parents

(or primary caregivers). The items are “My parents consider me more important than their work or

other jobs,” “My parents ask me about my school life with interest,” “My parents take care of my

physical condition and always try to clean my clothes and blankets,” “My parents provide me with

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proper medical care when I am sick,” “My parents scold me more than necessary when I do something

wrong,” “My parents try to beat me whenever I do something wrong,” “My parents often treat me

harshly and cause bruises or injuries,” and “My parents often swear at me.” All of the items have re-

sponse categories ranging from (1) strongly agree to (4) strongly disagree. The first four statements

were reverse coded such that higher scores denote better parenting quality. (α=.74-.76)

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Number of delinquent peers

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We measured the number of delinquent peers with a series of questions that asked about the number of

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friends who engaged in 12 different types of delinquent behaviors during the past 12 months. Those

behaviors include smoking tobacco, drinking alcoholic beverages, truancy, and running away from

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home (α=.60-.85).

Depression
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Based on Remster’s (2014) finding of an effect of internal stress such as depression on levels of self-

control, we used ten items to create an index of depression. The items include “I am lonely,” “I feel
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unhappy, sad, and depressed,” “Nothing is interesting to me,” and “I think about killing myself.” The
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response categories ranged from (1) strongly agree to (4) strongly disagree. We reverse coded the an-

swers so that the higher scores indicate higher levels of depression (α=.89-.91).
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Relationships with neighbors

We measured relationships with neighbors using six items. The items are “I know almost everyone in
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my neighborhood”, “I say hello to my neighbors when I run into them on the street,” “People guard
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against each other in my neighborhood,” “I think my neighborhood is safe,” “I like living with my cur-

rent neighbors,” and “I would like to continue living in my neighborhood.” The response categories

ranged from (1) strongly agree to (4) strongly disagree. To make higher scores indicate better

relationships, the answers were reverse coded except one item —“People guard against each other in

my neighborhood” (α=.72-.75).

Frequency of using cell phones for playing games

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We included the frequency of using a cell phone for playing games in the model. The KCYPS data

contain items asking about the frequency of using a cell phone for 9 types of different purposes: calling

family, texting family, calling friends, texting friends, playing games, taking pictures, watching mov-

ies, listening to music, and checking the time. Specifically, respondents are asked “How often do you

use your cell phone for the following purposes?” Each purpose has response categories from (1) fre-

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quently to (4) do not use for that purpose. In a supplementary analysis, we found that only the frequen-

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cy of playing games had a significant effect on the level of self-control. Thus, we included the frequen-

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cy of using a cell phone for playing games in the model. The item was reverse coded so that higher

scores denote higher frequency.

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Analytic strategy
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We estimate two-level random effects regression models (waves nested within respondents) using

HLM 7.0. First, we estimate the contemporaneous or immediate effect of cell phone reliance on levels
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of self-control. To help establish a non-spurious relationship, we group mean (individual mean) center
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each level 1 variable, including cell phone reliance. Like a fixed-effects model within individuals

(Allison 2005; Raudenbush and Bryk 2002), this design allows us to eliminate the effect of all
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unmeasured time-stable variables by estimating the effect of the deviation score from each individual’s

expected (mean) level of cell phone reliance at each wave on one’s level of self-control at that wave.
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Accordingly, we automatically control for the effect of all early-established and stable personal traits
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including genetic factors, prenatal conditions, and baseline self-control. Second, we test a long-term

effect of cell phone reliance on self-control by re-estimating the first model using a lagged measure of

cell phone reliance. Here too, any unmeasured time-stable variables are accounted for. Third, we test

another long-term effect of cell phone reliance on self-control by estimating a cross-level interaction

effect between wave and baseline cell phone reliance on the time trend change in self-control during

three waves. This model examines whether initial levels of cell phone reliance influence developmental

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change in adolescent self-control. To isolate the within-individual effect time trend, we add the indi-

vidual mean of the wave variable as a level 2 control variable.

Results

Table 1 Descriptive statistics

T
Wave2 Wave3 Wave4

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Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD

CR
Self-control 2.66 0.51 2.56 0.54 2.80 0.47

Cell phone reliance 2.30 0.75 2.41 0.73 2.38 0.68

US
Parenting 3.14 0.49 3.16 0.48 3.20 0.43

Depression 1.93 0.62 1.98 0.63 1.88 0.56


AN
Delinquent peers 0.34 1.17 0.23 0.76 0.49 1.04

Relationships with neigh-


M

bors 2.49 0.56 2.49 0.54 2.48 0.48

Frequency of game using a


ED

cell phone 2.92 0.99 3.08 1.00 2.84 1.08

Female 0.51 0.50


PT
CE

Descriptive statistics appear in Table 1. The values represent the raw scores of each variable. The mean

levels of both self-control and cell phone reliance range from 2 to 3. Males and females were almost
AC

equally represented in the data (M=0.51).

Table 2 Bivariate correlation matrix

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

(1) Self control 1.00

(2) Cell phone reliance –.31*** 1.00

19
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(3) Female .03* .18*** 1.00

(4) Parenting .27*** –.18*** .14*** 1.00

(5) Delinquent peers –.08*** .09*** –.18*** –.06*** 1.00

(6) Depression –.43*** .28*** .16*** –.33*** .02 1.00

(7) Relationships with


.07*** –.03* –.14*** .04** .02 –.11*** 1.00

T
neighbors

IP
(8) Frequency of game 1.00
–.15*** .25*** –.14*** –.10*** .04** .03* .04**
using a cell phone

CR
Note Results are based on N=5,871. * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001

US
Table 2 shows the bivariate correlation matrix. All of the independent variables are significantly
AN
correlated with self-control. As expected, self-control is negatively correlated with cell phone reliance,

depression, and the number of delinquent peers. On the other hand, effective parenting and good rela-
M

tionships with neighbors are positively correlated with self-control. Also, females have higher levels of

self-control.
ED
PT

Table 3 The contemporaneous and lagged effects of cell phone reliance on self-control.
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Model 1 Model 2

Coefficient SE Coefficient SE
AC

Cell phone reliance –.08*** .01 - -

Cell phone reliance (lagged) - - .03 .02

Depression –.27*** .01 –.27*** .02

Delinquent peer .01 .01 .01 .01

Parenting .05** .02 .07** .02

Neighbor .03* .01 .02 .02

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Frequency of game using a cell


–.02*** .01 –.01 .01
phone

Note The result is based on N=5,871 (Model 1) and N=3,807 (Model 2). * p < .05; ** p < .01;*** p < .001

Table 3 presents the contemporaneous and the lagged effect of cell phone reliance on self-control.

T
Model 1 shows that cell phone reliance at a given wave has a significant contemporaneous association

IP
with the level of self-control at the same wave. Specifically, increases in the adolescent’s cell phone

CR
reliance score are significantly associated with decreases in their self-control after controlling for the

effects of other possible predictors of self-control. By group-mean centering cell phone reliance, we

US
automatically account for the effects of any individual time-stable differences including genetic differ-

ences, stable predispositions, gender, and SES. The relatively small effect size of cell phone reliance
AN
(non-standardized coefficient: -.08; standardized coefficient: -.11), therefore, should be interpreted in

this context. The explained variance of Model 1 (R2 =.20) is 7% higher compared to the model without
M

the cell phone reliance variable (untabled; R2 =.13).


ED

Model 2 shows that the lagged measure of cell phone reliance has no significant association with
PT

the level of adolescent self-control. This means that cell phone reliance does not significantly influence

the level of adolescent self-control one year later. Taken together, these results suggest that if there is
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an effect of cell phone reliance on adolescent self-control, it is likely to be contemporaneous or instant.


AC

Table 4 The effect of initial cell phone reliance on the time trend in self-control over three waves

Fixed effect Coefficient Robust SE

For Intercept1(Between-individual)

Baseline cell phone reliance –.10*** .01

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Baseline parenting .10*** .02

Female .07*** .02

Baseline N. of delinquent peers –.03*** .01

Baseline depression –.19*** .01

Baseline relationships with neighbors .03* .01

Baseline frequency of game using a cell


–.02* .01

T
phone

IP
Mean wave .01 .05

CR
Intercept2 for Intercept1 2.68*** .01

US
Cross-level interaction term

Wave × Baseline cell phone reliance .05*** .01


AN
Intercept for Wave slope .07*** .01

Note Results are based on N=5,871. * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
M
ED

In Table 4, the effects of all “baseline” variables represent the between-individual effects of the level of

each variable at wave 2 on the mean level of self-control over three waves. The results indicate that
PT

adolescents with higher levels of baseline cell phone reliance have lower levels of self-control overall.
CE

Specifically, the level of mean self-control over three waves decreases .10 for each one unit increase in

baseline cell phone reliance after controlling for the effect of parenting and other independent varia-
AC

bles.

The coefficient for wave × baseline cell phone reliance indicates the cross-level interaction effect

between wave and cell phone reliance at the first wave (wave 2) on self-control. The level of cell phone

reliance at the first wave has a significant effect on the time trend in self-control over three waves, but

the direction of the effect is unexpectedly positive. This means that adolescents who have a higher lev-

el of baseline cell phone reliance experience a steeper increase in self-control over three waves than

22
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those who have a lower level of baseline cell phone reliance. These result suggests that there is no

long-term harmful effect of cell phone reliance on self-control. Instead, levels of self-control increased

more over time among those with higher levels of baseline cell phone reliance. Figure 1 shows this re-

sult visually. Although levels of self-control remained lowest among adolescents with high cell phone

reliance, they rose over time to slightly converge with the levels of self-control of adolescents with av-

T
erage and low cell phone reliance. Interestingly, although we do not present it in the table, the direction

IP
of the interaction effect between wave and baseline frequency of playing games using a cell phone was

CR
also positive (b= .01; p<.05).

Fig. 1 The effect of baseline cell phone reliance on the time trend in self-control over three

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waves
AN
0.500
M
Self-control

ED

0.000
PT

Low CPR
Average CPR
CE

High CPR
-0.500 Wave
AC

Note “Low” means -1 standard deviation levels of CPR from average CPR at wave 2; “High” means +1
standard deviation level of CPR from average CPR at wave 2.

Discussion

The current study tested the idea that cell phone reliance might reduce adolescent self-control.

23
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Although established theories regarding the effect of cell phone use on self-control do not

exist, we hypothesized contemporaneous and long-term harmful effects of cell phone reliance

on adolescent self-control based on possible hypothetical scenarios. We found three main

results. First, cell phone reliance had a contemporaneous harmful association with adolescent

self-control. Second, the association of cell phone reliance with the level of self-control was

T
not significant when we used a lagged measure of cell phone reliance. Third, the level of cell

IP
phone reliance at the first wave had no significant negative effect on the time trend in self-

CR
control over three waves. In sum, the results indicate that although it is possible that cell phone

reliance has a contemporaneous negative effect on adolescent self-control, it does not have a

US
long-term negative effect on levels of self-control or the development of self-control. With
AN
these results, this study contributes to the field in the following ways.

First, the results suggest that concerns about the long-term effects of excessive cell phone
M

use on adolescent criminality may be somewhat overstated. As explained in the background


ED

section, there are various reasons to anticipate long-term effects of cell phone reliance on

adolescent self-control. Although the theoretical processes we described deserve more study,
PT

the current study failed to find long-term effects of cell phone reliance on self-control. Over
CE

time the levels of self-control of adolescents with higher baseline levels of cell phone reliance

began to converge with the levels of self-control of adolescents with lower baseline levels of
AC

cell phone reliance.

Although this convergence tendency is not the main focus of this study, we offer some

explanations. Regardless of environmental influences, researchers have observed a

convergence tendency of self-control, and indeed a line of research focused on brain

development (Casey et al, 2008; Steinberg, 2008; Nelson et al, 2002) has developed to explain

24
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this tendency. These authors argue that adolescents experience continual development in the

frontal cortex of the brain, which controls impulsive and risk-seeking propensity. In turn,

adolescents’ levels of self-control will converge as their brains develop. Others argue that this

convergence tendency can be explained by the learning mechanism (McCartt et al, 2003;

Morrissay et al, 2006; Romer et al, 2010). According to this logic, adolescents learn how to

T
delay their impulses when they experience negative consequences of their impulsive

IP
behaviors. Adolescents thus learn to control themselves as they age and, in turn, their levels of

CR
self-control converge. To clarify these mechanisms, however, is beyond the purpose of this

study. One thing that is clear is that we do not see any long-term harmful effect of cell phone

US
reliance on the development of adolescent self-control among this sample.
AN
Second, the current study suggests that cell phone reliance may have a significant

contemporaneous effect on adolescent self-control. This finding may be consistent with two of
M

the hypothetical explanations discussed above. That is, excessive cell phone reliance could
ED

deprive adolescents of enough time to rest, and subsequently, deplete their self-control in the

short term. Also, formal and informal restrictions on cell phone use may trigger “withdrawal
PT

symptoms” among adolescents who have a high reliance on cell phone use. The withdrawal
CE

symptoms could involve negative emotions including anger that may instantly reduce the level

of self-control.
AC

Third, to our knowledge, this is the first empirical test of the effect of cell phone reliance on

adolescent self-control. Although many fields of scholarship have tested various questions

around problematic cell phone use, criminological researchers have given little attention to the

effects of cell phone use. We also suggested various hypothetical mechanisms that could

explain the effect of excessive cell phone use on self-control based on prior research.

25
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Although the current study did not test the mediating mechanisms of those theoretical

explanations, our discussion of them may provide meaningful insights for future research.

The current study has some limitations. First, although we used a rigorous statistical

method that eliminated the influence of many potential confounding factors, the temporal

order between cell phone reliance and self-control was uncertain. This means that low self-

T
control could have caused high cell phone reliance. According to Gottfredson and Hirschi

IP
(1990), self-control not only predicts crime and delinquency but also other analogous

CR
behaviors associated with “An underlying tendency to pursue short-term, immediate pleasure”

(p. 93). In accordance with this perspective, various empirical studies have identified effects of

US
self-control on other addiction-related, non-criminal behaviors including smoking (Stylianou
AN
2002), drinking (Arneklev et al. 1993), and drug use (LaGrange and Silverman 1999). In

addition, some studies that addressed the association between self-control and cell phone or
M

internet addiction specifically took this perspective (Hinduja and Patchin 2008; Ybarra and
ED

Mitchell 2004). Our data do not allow us to determine whether cell phone reliance preceded

low self-control or vice versa. Note that if the association is unidirectional from self-control to
PT

cell phone reliance, then this would provide further evidence against claims about the harmful
CE

effects of cell phone reliance on self-control.

Second, this study could not separate out the effects of each function of a cell phone. Given
AC

that a cell phone is an integration of various types of electronic devices, and different people

might use cell phones for different functions, separating these effects might produce different

results. For example, in a recent report by the KISDI (2014), 18.5% of male cell phone users

responded that they used game applications more than all other types of applications,

compared with 0% of female cell phone users. In addition, 37.8% of females responded that

26
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they used communication applications most frequently, versus 22.1% of males. This statistics

implies that some adolescents are more likely to be exposed to sensational content, while

others are more likely to be exposed to unsupervised peer relation, and that the effects of

different functions of cell phone use may be different from each other.

Third, this study did not address various mediating and moderating effects in the

T
relationship of cell phone reliance with self-control. To know more about the specific

IP
mechanisms by which cell phone reliance reduces self-control in the near term, sleeping hours

CR
could be considered as a mediating variable in the relationship between cell phone use and low

self-control. Also, restrictions on cell phone use and subsequent “withdrawal symptoms”

US
might be important mediating variables under a second hypothetical explanation suggested in
AN
this study. Or, time spent with friends using social networking services may be a mediating

variable that connects the cell phone reliance and self-control indirectly. In addition,
M

researchers should consider including some moderating variables in models of long-term


ED

effects. Although we failed to observe a significant long-term effect, the effect may be

significant in some subgroups. For example, levels of self-control among adolescents who
PT

have more delinquent peers may decrease more in the long term with cell phone use.
CE

Given these limitations, future research needs to address the following issues. To begin

with, researchers should make more efforts to establish the causal nature of the association of
AC

cell phone reliance with self-control. As we discussed, including mediating variables in such

studies might be a solution. Shortening the time lag between the measures of cell phone

reliance and self-control is also essential. Short-term associations of cell phone reliance with

self-control within days, weeks, and months could not be captured in this study because each

wave of our data was gathered annually. The smaller a researcher makes the time lags, the

27
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more likely the study will be to establishes a clear direction of causality.

Second, potential differences in the effects of excessive cell phone use over various age

groups need to be considered. Although we used data collected from 14 to 16-year-old

adolescents, it is uncertain whether younger groups or older groups might be more susceptible

to the effects of cell phone reliance. Third, this study should be replicated with data collected

T
from subjects from other cultural backgrounds. We used a sample of Korean adolescents, and

IP
our results may not be applicable to samples from Western countries. Fourth, research should

CR
examine specific functions of cell phones. As we discussed above, a cell phone has various

functions that may have different effects on self-control. If we clarify the relationship between

US
each of these specific functions and criminological concepts, we may have better insight
AN
regarding cell phone related issues.

The primary goal of this study was to empirically test the growing belief that cell phone
M

reliance reduces adolescent self-control. We reviewed theoretical explanations regarding how


ED

and why cell phone reliance might predict low self-control. Despite these explanations, we

identified only a short-term association between cell phone reliance and self-control. This
PT

study thus has implications for our understanding of a major source of behavioral problems
CE

among adolescents.
AC

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Author biography
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Joonggon Kim is a doctoral candidate in a college of criminology and criminal justice at

Florida State University. He received his Master’s degree in forensic and investigative science
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from Kyung-pook National University in 2012. His research interests include life-course
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criminology, hate crime, and policing.


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Gyeongseok Oh is a Ph.D. student in a College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State


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University. He received his Master's degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Florida

State University. His research interests include the biosocial criminology, social

disorganization, situational crime prevention, and life-course criminology.

Sonja Elayne Siennick is an Associate Professor at Florida State University’s College of

Criminology and Criminal Justice. She studies criminal offending and mental health problems

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in the contexts of the life course and kinship and friendship relations.

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Highlight

 Cell phone reliance have a contemporaneous harmful association with adolescent self-co
ntrol.
 Cell phone reliance does not have a long-term negative effect on levels of self-control.
 Cell phone reliance does not have a long-term negative effect on the development of self

T
-control.

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 Concerns about the long-term effects of cell phone reliance on adolescent self-control m
ay be overstated.

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 Any effect of cell phone reliance may be transient.

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ED
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35