College students’ attachment to their smartphones: a subjective operant approach

Zixue Tai, Cheng Dai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Smartphone use has become a pervasive aspect of youth daily life today. Immersive engagement with apps and features on the smartphone may lead to intimate and affectionate human-device relationships. The purpose of this research is to holistically dissect the ranked order of the various dimensions of college students’ attachment to the smartphones through the by-person factorial analytical power of Q methodology. Methods: Inspired by extant research into diverse aspects of human attachment to the smartphones, a concourse of 50 statements pertinent to the functional, behavioral, emotional and psychological dimensions of human-smartphone attachment were pilot tested and developed. A P sample of 67 participants completed the Q sort based on respective subjective perceptions and self-references. Data was processed utilizing the open-source Web-based Ken-Q Analysis software in detecting the main factorial structure. Results: Five distinct factor (persona) exemplars were identified illustrating different pragmatic, cognitive and attitudinal approaches to smartphone engagement. They were labeled mainstream users, disciplined conventionalists, casual fun-seekers, inquisitive nerds, and sentient pragmatists in response to their respective psycho-behavioral traits. There were clear patterns of similarity and divergence among the five personas. Conclusion: The typological diversity points to the multiplicate nature of human-smartphone attachment. Clusters of cognitive, behavioral and habitual patterns in smartphone engagement driving each persona may be a productive area of exploration in future research in exploring their respective emotional and other outcomes. The concurrent agency of nomophobia and anthropomorphic attribution is an intriguing line of academic inquiry.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
JournalBMC psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Attachment theory
  • College students
  • Mobile attachment
  • Q methodology
  • Smartphone use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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