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What is iPosture and What are Its Health Implications?

July 19, 2017

iposture-health-implications.jpgThis blog is about smartphones, but it isn't about the dangers of texting and driving. You already know all that stuff. I’m interested in other, less obvious hazards of smartphone use. Just look around an airport, lobby, restaurant or other public place. Note the number of heads buried into their hand-held device. Smartphones reshape the way we live our lives and interact with our fellow humans. Social interaction and communication are the most obvious. There are less obvious ways in which the smartphone is affecting lives.

Physical Health Implications

Recent studies have shown that smartphone overuse negatively affects hand functions, pinch strength, and causes pain in the thumb. Smartphone overuse negatively affects our spine and neck. It can lead to headaches. Smartphone overuse has even been shown to negatively affect our respiratory function. Picture a scenario where a worker, like an assembler for consumer electronics, spends an entire shift hunched over using their hand fine motor skills. Then that person spends several hours off shift in hunched positions thumb-typing their smartphone. It’s a cramped, bad brew of positions leading to musculoskeletal issues.

Mental Health Implications

This is where it gets interesting. This portion of the blog is a quick summary of Amy Cuddy’s work. Cuddy is a Harvard researcher that has done extensive psychological research related to the mind-body connection. She is most well known for her work related to body posture’s effect on our feelings, perceptions, and social power dynamics. She came to national prominence with a TED talk that went viral. Take a look at it here to get a taste of her fascinating research.

There is a chapter in Cuddy’s recent book Presence (fantastic read) that addresses what she calls iPosture. It is the hunched, shoulders rolled inwards, chin down, hands close to the body posture of most smartphone users. It also happens to be the posture that humans and animals throughout the animal kingdom display when anxious, scared, and self-absorbed.                                                   

Cuddy led a series of clever experiments to determine if and how iPosture affects our mood, self-perception, and behaviors. You’ll have to read Presence to learn all the details of these experiments, but below are key findings. Immediately after making iPosture type poses, persons…

  • Are less assertive

  • Have increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone)

  • Have a lower threshold for pain

  • Have decreased feelings of physical strength

  • Have lower self-confidence

By the way, did you know smartphones are highly addictive? The average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day. Why are we so compelled to check our phones? I sometimes find myself reaching for my smartphone without a clear purpose almost like an unconscious habit. Intermittent variable rewards is the reason. This is the psychological ingredient that makes slot machines so addictive. When you scroll down your screen you don’t know what is coming next. You don’t know what the next pull (slot machine) or swipe (smart phone) will generate. Sometimes your action is rewarded by your phone – a funny comment on social media, an insightful safety blog, etc. Those intermittent rewards prod you to keep swiping, scrolling, on and on, losing track of time and the world around you.

The research on smartphone usage is just getting started. Their habitual usage is rewiring our brains and bodies in ways that we can’t even imagine at this point. In the meantime, be aware of your posture when you use your smartphone.

  • Hold your phone at eye level

  • Keep your chin up

  • Keep your shoulders back

  • Have a purpose when you look at your phone (killing time isn’t an acceptable purpose)

Smartphones are powerful tools. They have immense benefits, but beware of potential hazards to our physical and mental well-being. Be conscious of your body posture when using your smartphone.

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Brian Dishman Brian Dishman is a Senior Consultant at PSI. He educates safety leaders on the internal factors that impact employee safety. Brian focuses on safety leadership, safety culture development, and the psychology of safety.