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Researchers stunned at results of study asking how much students prefer smartphones over food

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A University of Buffalo study found that students choose their smartphones over food by a large margin. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

A study attempted to find out just how much college students prefer their smartphones over life-sustaining food — and the researchers were shocked at the results.

How addictive are smartphones?

"We were very surprised by the results," said University of Buffalo clinical psychology doctoral student Sara O'Donnell.

In the UB study, students were given two- and three-hour periods where they could read newspapers without their smartphones or food.

Then they were given a task where they could earn time with their smartphones, or allowed to eat food.

O'Donnell, who conducted the study with professor Leonard Epstein, found that students choose their smartphones over food by a large margin.

"We … found that when deprived of both food and smartphones, students were much more motivated to work for time to use their smartphone, and were willing to part with more hypothetical money to gain access to their phone," said O'Donnell.

The researchers found that in surveys and measuring the amount of "work" students were willing to perform for either reward that they were much more motivated to choose their smartphones.

O'Donnell said this "reinforcing" characteristic of smartphones leads her to believe that the devices produce behavior similar to addiction in the subjects.

"Research is just beginning to investigate the possibility that smartphone addiction exists," she explained.

"While reinforcing value does not equate to addiction," she added, "it seems likely that if smartphone addiction becomes a valid diagnosis, those individuals would have high smartphone reinforcement, just as individuals with alcohol use disorders have high alcohol reinforcement."

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