What is Meant by “Phubbing” and Is It Ruining Our Relationships?

Phubbing ID-100383462

Are you phubbing right now? Not sure? The definition of phubbing (sometimes misspelled fubbing) is the act of being on your phone to the exclusion of an actual person in your physical presence. You can say you are a phubb or a phubber (sometimes fubber), and the person you are ignoring is the phubbee. If you have experienced this (and let’s face it, we all have), you have been phubbed.

If you are reading this on your phone, and there is another person in the room you should be paying attention to instead…you’re likely phubbing…


The Urban Dictionary defines phubbing as:

“Phubbing: snubbing someone in favour of your mobile phone. We’ve all done it: when a conversation gets boring, the urge to check out an interesting person’s twitter/ Facebook/ YouTube/ Pinterest/whatever feed can be overwhelming.

I went out for a date with Johnny and he didn’t stop phubbing me the whole time, it was so rude, I ended up leaving early!”

To get more of an etymology for phubbing, Wikipedia describes phubbing as:

“…a term coined as part of a campaign by Macquarie Dictionary to describe the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone. In May 2012, the advertising agency behind the campaign, McCann, had invited a number of lexicographers, authors, and poets to coin a neologism to describe the behaviour. The word “phubbing,” a portmanteau of phone and snubbing, was first described by McCann Group Account Director Adrian Mills, who was working with David Astle.[1] The term has appeared in media around the world and was popularized by the Stop Phubbing campaign created by McCann.

There is a small but growing body of research around phubbing. Here is my summary of some of the available research:


The Effect of Phubbing on Relationships

In a study aptly named “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners” James A. Roberts and Meredith E. David offered some insights on the affects of phubbing on partner relationships (they identify partner phubbing with the term “Pphubbing”). In general, they concluded that Pphubbing “has a significant and positive effect on cell phone conflict” and “a significant and negative effect on relationship satisfaction.” In other words, phubbing your significant other has a significant and positive correlation with cell phone conflict and a significant and negative effect on your relationship.

  1. Pphubbing increases conflict among both securely and anxiously attached individuals. In other words, those that feel secure in their relationships and those that do not both saw increased conflict because of Pphubbing.
  2. Also, among those that “experience high levels of Pphubbing, those with anxious attachment styles have greater conflict than those with secure attachment styles.” So, those who are less secure in their relationships, when their partner Pphubs them, more often have a greater conflict as a result.
  3. They also demonstrated that “Pphubbing and cell phone conflict are significant predictors of relationship satisfaction.” Meaning you will have a less satisfactory relationship if you Pphubb.
  4. “The results indicate that cell phone conflict mediates the relationship between Pphubbing and relationship satisfaction, and the mediating effect of cell phone conflict is stronger among anxiously attached individuals.” This means to me that cell phone conflict sits between Pphubbing and relationship satisfaction and is how those two factors are related.

The chart they produced demonstrating these relationships:

The conclusions are simple and obvious. Phubbing in any form affects your relationship with your partner or anyone else that you are physically present with but not mentally present with. This research shows especially that the more “anxiously attached” individuals are much more affected by phubbing.

So, if you want quality in your personal relationships, put your phone away, not just down.

Phubbing is a Self-Perpetuating Problem

Other research shows that when we are phubbing, we are perpetuating the practice in others. What typically happens is that when we focus on our smartphones in the presence of others, those other people then turn their attention to their smartphone in search of the connection they hoped to establish with you. Since the practice of phubbing decreases our actual connectedness to others and erodes the quality of our relationships this becomes a vicious downward spiral of increasingly unsatisfactory relationship quality on our lives.

Another study titled “How ‘phubbing’ becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone” showed according to Time Magazine that “people who are phubbed are more likely to reach for their phones and try to engage with their social media network in order to fill that void. This is the start of a vicious cycle.” You can easily see that how we interact with our smartphones places us a path. If we use our devices as distractions from actual connections, that path eventually spirals downward toward relationship dissatisfaction.

Even the Presence of a Phone is a Problem

Even if you are not actively using your phone during a social interaction, there is strong evidence that the mere physical presence of a phone affects the quality of the relationship. This study about “How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality” concluded that “the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships, an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics.”

Phubbing Threatens Our Core Fundamental Human Needs

In an article from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology titled “The effects of “phubbing” on social interaction” they concluded that:

“…increased phubbing significantly and negatively affected perceived communication quality and relationship satisfaction… This research underlines the importance of phubbing as a modern social phenomenon to be further investigated.”

Several articles that referenced that same study showed that the researchers concluded, phubbing threatened our four “fundamental needs”. Those needs are:

  • Belongingness
  • Self-esteem
  • Meaningful existence
  • Control

When these needs are threatened as they are when you are phubbed it can have a direct impact on your mental health as well as the quality of your personal relationships.


We don’t need a lot of research to tell us what we already intrinsically know, that if we want quality relationships in our lives, we need to make them a priority and focus our attention on them. Additionally, you cannot have a human, connected, quality relationship through a smartphone. You must look someone in the eye and connect one-on-one for a quality relationship. In case we didn’t realize it before, now we have the scientists telling us what we already knew.

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About the Author:

Terry has been an entrepreneur in the IT industry for over30 years. Go here to read his complete personal story, “Husband, father, Grandfather and IT Executive.” If you want to send Terry a quick message visit the contact page Here.

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Terry Preece

Terry Preece

Husband, Father, Grandfather, and IT Executive

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